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Become a CNC Programmer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a CNC programmer. Research the education requirements, training information and experience you will need to start a career in CNC machining. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a CNC…
  • 1:28 Step 1: Complete…
  • 2:17 Step 2: Get Work Experience
  • 2:41 Step 3: Get Certified

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a CNC Programmer?

Degree Level None; certificate, associate degree or apprenticeship programs helpful
Degree Fields CNC machine operations, precision machining, machine technology, or a related field
Certification Voluntary
Experience Varies; some employers prefer 5 years of experience
Key Skills Communication, critical-thinking, and problem solving skills; systems analysis and mathematical abilities; knowledge of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software like MasterCAM
Salary (2015) $48,990 (median salary for CNC machine tool programmers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2012 search of available programs, Job ads accessed November 2012, Occupational Information Network

A CNC programmer develops instructions necessary to run the computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines primarily used in the manufacturing industry. An affinity for computers and a familiarity with equipment like drills, lathes, and presses is necessary for success in this career field. Overtime work is common, and safety precautions must be observed to prevent injuries when working with the high-speed machines. CNC programmers do not need to have a degree, but some employers prefer candidates who've completed certificate, associate degree or apprenticeship programs in CNC machine operations, precision machining, machine technology or a related field. Voluntary certification is available. Some employers prefer CNC programmers to have around 5 years of experience. It is important for CNS programmers to have skills in communication, critical-thinking and problem solving, and systems analysis and mathematical abilities, and to have knowledge of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software like MasterCAM. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015 CNC machine tool programmers made a median salary of $48,990.

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Step 1: Complete Training Program

While many employers specify a high school diploma as the minimum educational requirement for CNC programmers, it might be helpful to earn an associate degree or certificate from a community or technical college. Certificate programs in machining or machine technology require anywhere from 12 to 32 credit hours to complete. Courses in blueprint reading, machine tools, and basic shop practices are often part of the curriculum.

Associate degree programs in this field offer similar coursework. However, they also require the completion of general education classes. Some are offered in conjunction with an apprenticeship that allows students to gain hands-on shop experience through an employer. Professional organizations may offer these training opportunities as well.

Step 2: Get Work Experience

Even though entry-level positions are available in this field, some employers look for applicants with up to 5 years of experience. Exposure to a variety of cutting machinery and materials could prove helpful to aspiring CNC programmers. They might also want to take on job duties that include selecting and setting various tools or manually programming cutting instructions.

Step 3: Get Certified

Although certification is not required, employers look favorably upon workers who've become certified. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS) offers several CNC milling and turning certifications to candidates who pass written and practical exams. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International also offers the Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) certification to candidates who pass a written exam.

CNC programmers develop the instructions to run CNC machines in manufacturing settings. No formal training is required, but completing a program, gaining experience and becoming certified will help employment opportunities.

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