How to Become a Machinist 2021 (Things to Know)

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How to Become a Machinist 2021 (Apprenticeships, Education & Prospects)

Machinists operate machines and create metal parts and tools. These finished products are essential to many industries. Machining is a great job option for people who are analytical problem solvers.

Machinists currently enjoy a job growth projection on par with other occupations. Let’s take a look at some of the responsibilities, characteristics, and educational considerations of machinists today.

We’ll also dive into salary and career outlook information, which are important to keep in mind when considering pursuing a career as a machinist.

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What Does a Machinist Do?

As mentioned above, machinists operate and maintain machinery and make metal parts, instruments and tools.

Duties of a Machinists

Machinists complete the following tasks on a day to day basis:

  • Read sketches, blueprints, or CAD designs
  • Set up and operate machinery
  • Disassemble manual, automatic, CNC machine tools
  • Monitor the feed and speed of machines
  • Turn, mill, drill, grind, and shape machine parts
  • Measure and utilize math to ensure accuracy and quality
  • Follow all necessary safety precautions

Machinist Equipment Required for the Job

machinist machines
Machinists operate and maintain large equipment. Shadychiri, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Machinists use a variety of large and small tools throughout the day, depending on the type of project being completed and the specific tasks required.

Many of the projects completed by machinists today involve some automated machinery that runs CAD (computer-aided design) programs. Machines include lathes, milling machines, and grinders. Both manual and CNC machinery is frequently utilized.

Small measuring tools like micrometers are also extremely important.

What Items Do Machinists Make?

Machinists use large machinery and small tools to make metal parts, instruments, and tools. Depending on your qualifications and place of employment, you may make a range of items or specialize in a few.

Education Paths for Machinists – Where to Begin?

One of the benefits of becoming a machinist is that it requires a very straightforward and affordable educational path. Instead of spending thousands of dollars at a college or university, you can attend a two year college after high school and learn all remaining aspects of the job through ongoing, on-the-job training as needed.

1) High School Diploma 

The first step towards becoming a machinist is taking relevant high school classes and graduating with good grades. It is highly recommended that aspiring machinists take several math classes such as algebra and geometry. Higher-level math classes will be beneficial for your career in the long run.

Other helpful classes include general metalworking, welding, and even woodworking classes. Any hands-on classes that require precision and attention to form and function are relevant to the machining industry.

2) 2 Year Degrees and Ongoing Training

apprentice sheet metal worker
Apprenticeships teach aspiring sheet metal workers all the necessary skills of the trade in a real-world setting.

After graduating from high school, aspiring machinists can obtain a degree from a two year technical school.

Degrees in machining and metalworking cover all required skills and safety considerations that are necessary for entering the workforce. Students learn to read blueprints, hone their math and measuring skills, learn how to operate machinery, and practice on real projects.

On-the-job training is paid, so you will learn and earn income at the same time. As you complete more training, your salary will increase. Training can be lifelong depending on your interests and motivations. Safety training happens on occasion as well.

Licensing or affiliation with local organizations is not always required for employment as a machinist, but they can help you progress in your career.  Check out requirements in your specific area to ensure you are qualified.

Additional Skills & Requirements of Machinists

Besides knowing the fundamentals of operating machinery, turning, milling, grinding, and other processes, machinists who succeed in the industry generally have the following skills and personality traits:

Machinist working
Machinists are analytical and detail oriented. Rob NREC, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1) Manual Dexterity

Working with metal tools and parts requires manual dexterity and precision. You should be able to use measuring tools and operate larger equipment with care to ensure good results. This career requires you to work with your hands and be able to create finished products that have uniform dimensions and quality.

2) Attention to Detail  

Because machining  is so precise, close attention to detail is required. Reading blueprints, CAD, and other instructions and accurately translating those requirements onto metal takes a lot of patience. Small mistakes can compromise projects, so being detail oriented will help prevent any major mishaps.

3) Strong Math and Mechanical Skills

As previously discussed, machinists are very mechanically inclined and rely on mathematics to ensure excellent results. Machining is an incredibly precise process, and correct math is necessary for creating quality finished products.

Being able to visualize a finished product is also an essential characteristic of a mechanically inclined mind.

4) Stamina and Strength 

Lifting and manipulating metal products throughout the day can require a good deal of stamina and physical strength. Many tasks require standing for long periods of time.

Where Would You Work As A Machinist?

Machinists can be employed in a few different settings depending on their employer and location. Most machinists will work in machine shops, which are briefly described below.

It is important to note that regardless of the work environment, working with metal and large equipment is potentially dangerous. Workplace hazards include injuries from operating machinery. Employers will cover necessary safety rules and provide safety equipment like safety glasses and ear plugs.

Machine Shops

machine shop view
Machine shops contain specialized equipment and are organized in stations. Pi.1415926535, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The majority of machinists work in machine shops that focus on machining various parts and tools. Machine shops contain all the necessary specialized equipment and tools in various stations and work spaces.

What is a Machinist’s Salary? 

Machinists living in the United States can expect to earn a median salary of about $47,000 per year. This is a great median salary when compared to jobs in other industries. Annual salary can vary based on where you live and what type of company or work environment you choose. Machinists working in the transportation equipment industry make a few thousand dollars more per year on average.

In the United Kingdom, machinists can expect to earn a median salary of approximately £29,000. Again, salary estimates vary depending on where you live.

How Long Do Machinists Work?

Machinists usually work full time hours: 8 hours per day, or 40 hours per week. Shifts may fluctuate, but many machinists are able to work daytime shifts with weekends off. The number of hours worked and specific days worked will depend on employer needs, just like any other job.

Sometimes machinists are required to work overtime, which obviously increases their hours worked, but also adds to their annual salary. Evening and weekend shifts are also common.

What Are the Career Prospects for Machinists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated job growth for machinists (and tool and die makers) is currently 3%. This percentage of growth is on par with other occupations, and there are around 460,000 job openings in this industry each year. Given these numbers, there is definitely a need for machinists and related occupations across various manufacturing settings.

Job growth for tool and die makers is projected to decrease in the upcoming years because of automation in the industry.

If you are an aspiring machinist who is wondering whether it is worth it to pursue this career, consider the role of manufacturing in your area. This can differ from city to city and state to state, so consider where you currently live or would like to live in the future.

Preparing for a Career as a Machinist (Things You Can Do Right Now!)

If becoming a machinist is something you are interested in pursuing, you can take actionable steps towards your goal by jumping in and learning as much as you can about the trade.

1) High School Math and Metalworking Classes 

If you are currently in high school, take as many math and metalworking classes as you can and consider how these skills can transfer to your future career. Algebra, geometry, and higher level math classes are all beneficial. Any metalworking or woodworking classes will help you gain an eye for detail and a love for working with your hands.

2) Related Job Experience 

Whether you are a student or an adult seeking a career change, experience in a related job field can help you learn the skills needed for working as a machinist and can help you stand out from other applicants.

Related jobs include assembling, welding, sheet metal work, and tool and die making. If you already excel at any of these occupations, you will likely perform well as a machinist. Tool and die making is very closely related to machining. If you currently work in this role, the transition into machining will be smoother for you.

Are You Ready to Become a Machinist?

Becoming a machinist is a great career choice for individuals who enjoy both mental and physical challenges during the work day. The positive job growth for machinists over the next several years means that you likely will not have to worry too much about job security once you find a job. The industry overall continues to play a large role in the United States economy. With nearly half a million job openings each year in this specialized industry, becoming a machinist may be the right plan for you.

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