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CNC Operator: Job Outlook & Career Info

Find out what a CNC operator does. Learn about the education and training requirements for employment. Read on for the career outlook and earning potential to decide if this career is a good fit for you.

Career Definition for a CNC Operator

A CNC operator, also known as a CNC machinist, implements the plans created by a CNC programmer to run a computer-numeric controlled machine. This is done by setting the machine and loading it with the right cutting tools as indicated by the program which was developed to produce a specific part. The work of a CNC operator results in large numbers of precisely cut parts created to fill orders from a variety of industries. CNC operators may also have experience in machining or programming.

Education Vocational programs, apprenticeships, on-the-job training
Job Skills Mechanical aptitude, knowledge of computers, troubleshooting, problem solving
Median Salary (2017)* $39,230 per year (computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 1% (little to no change) (computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Required

Some CNC operators have been certified through a vocational or apprenticeship program; however, being hired as an entry-level employee and receiving on-the-job training is the most common way to begin a career in CNC operating. Once employed, continued training is vital as new software and upgrades in machinery are nearly constant in the industry.

Skills Required

Those considering a career in CNC operating should have mechanical aptitude and a desire to work with machines that require precise operation. The ability to read blueprints and a basic understanding of computers will also be helpful. A CNC operator is often called upon to troubleshoot when machines don't function properly and so should enjoy the challenge of this type of problem solving.

Career and Economic Outlook

The BLS reports that CNC operators working with metals and plastics can expect the field to grow by 1% between 2016 and 2026 (little to no change). In May 2017, the BLS reported the median annual earnings among computer-controlled machine tool operators (metal and plastic) as $39,230.

Alternate Career Options

Other jobs similar to a CNC operator that might appeal to you include:

Toolmaker

A toolmaker uses computer-aided design programs to create the tools used in manufacturing where pieces of metal or plastic need to be modified, such as through cutting or shaping. Toolmakers also test the tools they've made, making adjustments as needed so that the parts produced meet the specifications on blueprints. Toolmakers may also prepare, operate, and break down automatic, manual, and CNC machine tools as needed. Paths to this career can vary, from apprenticeships to postsecondary vocational or technical college programs to on-the-job training. Toolmakers can earn voluntary industry certification, and it can help boost employability.

According to the BLS, employment of machinists and tool and die makers is expected to increase from 2016-2026 by 1%; according to the BLS. Opportunities are expected to remain plentiful because fewer toolmakers are expected to enter the field than will be leaving it through retirement. The BLS reports that the median pay earned by tool and die makers was $52,480 in 2017.

Millwright

A millwright takes apart and puts together complex industrial machinery. Millwrights are also qualified to perform maintenance tasks on these machines, such as replacing or lubricating parts as needed. Working millwrights usually hold an associate's degree in industrial maintenance, or they've completed a 4-year apprenticeship after earning a high school diploma. Millwrights can look forward to better-than-average job growth from 2016-2026; the BLS predicts a 10% increase in employment. The BLS also estimates that millwrights earned a median annual salary of $53,980 in 2017.


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