How to Become a Machinist

 If you’re good with details, are mechanically inclined and like the idea of working with a variety of equipment, a career as a machinist might be a good match. The idea of working in a manufacturing environment should also appeal to you.

Job Overview
$39,910
High School or GED
None
Long-term
438,100
7%
29,900
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Machinists have a lot of interaction with computer-driven technology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that in this career, you would set up and operate a number of machine tools that are computer- or mechanically controlled. The end product is usually precision instruments, tools or metal parts. Typical duties of a machinist might include:

  • Getting information from blueprints, computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing files or drawings
  • Setting up, operating and tearing down machine tools that might be manual, automatic or computer numeric controlled
  • Installing and adjusting cutting tools
  • Monitoring machine operations
  • Turning, drilling, grinding or other operation to make parts meet specifications
  • Testing for defects

A general machinist works on a number machines to make one or more precision metal parts. A production machinist usually produces a large number of just one part, while a maintenance machinist repairs or makes new parts for existing machines.

Similar Jobs

If this type of work sounds appealing, you might want to consider similar careers. You might enjoy these:

  • Industrial machinery mechanics
  • Tool and die makers
  • Metal and plastic machine workers
  • Millwrights
  • Welders
  • Cutters
  • Solderers
  • Brazers

Career Outlook

The median 2010 hourly machinist rate was $19.19, or $39,910 per year, the BLS reports. The growth rate predicted between 2010 and 2020 is 7 percent for machinists and tool and die makers as a group, slower than average. For just machinists, the estimate is 8 percent.

While new technology has resulted in the need for less human interaction, employers still need you if have the skills to work on almost any project and complete any task in the shop. In some areas, they have trouble attracting workers with the skills or abilities required to fill jobs or enter apprenticeship programs.

Requirements

You must have a high school education or equivalent to become a machinist. In addition to above-average mechanical ability, you’ll need the ability to focus on details plus knowledge of metals, computers and machine tools, eHow says.

You must be able to concentrate without being distracted to produce products with 100 percent accuracy. Operating computer-assisted equipment is a standard duty, one that requires good math and computer skills.

The Precision Machined Products Association says potential machinists must be able to visually detect differences that might be subtle. You’ll need to have a commitment to both safety and quality and be able to learn from experience.

Machinists also need to be physically able to do this type of work. It requires standing and performing repetitive motions for long periods.

Typical Education

You can learn the required skills through formal education or on-the-job training.

Formal apprenticeship programs are available to high school graduates with appropriate math skills. They’re usually sponsored by unions or manufacturers. You’ll receive paid shop training and related technical instruction over for four to five years.

You can also complete training at vocational schools, technical or community colleges and through employer training programs.

Steps to Becoming a Machinist

Your first step should be completing any math deficiencies. You should complete at least algebra and trigonometry.

If you know where you’d like to work geographically, contact a few companies in that area with machinists to determine hiring requirements. Enrolling in classes at a local trade school can give you basic skills to enter an apprenticeship program, eHow suggests.

It’s sometimes hard to snag an apprenticeship. Checking out opportunities for these programs and other training at trade sites like the National Tooling & Machining Association can help.

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