what is a cnc machinist?

A CNC machinist operates CNC machinery in factories. When you are new to the profession, you start as a CNC machine operator. The role involves loading raw materials, observing the CNC machine, making adjustments to specifications and ensuring that the machine creates the tools correctly.

Over time, you advance to higher positions with more responsibilities. However, you still have the same basic duties: loading raw materials, keeping the machine running, and ensuring that measurements are exact to the millimetre. The tiniest mistake could result in wasted materials and tools, costing your company money and forcing you to start again.

Working as a CNC machinist requires physical stamina and digital know-how. CNC machinists don't have backbreaking jobs, but you stand on your feet for long periods. Your employer won't expect you to know how to configure the machine when you start, but you should be familiar with technology and software. Fortunately, employers provide the training you need to keep the machinery running smoothly. You'll create tools, work with your hands and learn new skills. Furthermore, CNC machinists are always in demand.

Would working as a CNC machinist suit your mechanical skills and digital know-how? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a CNC machinist role.

cnc machinist jobs

average salary of a cnc machinist

According to National Careers, the compensation package for CNC machinist ranges from £20,000 to £35,000 per year. When you are a trainee in the role, your earnings are lower since you have minimal experience. As you grow your skills and experience, your salary will reflect the transferrable skills you have. Some opportunities for increasing your salary prospects include working overtime or taking on more responsibility.

what factors affect the salary of a CNC machinist?

The salary of a CNC machinist depends on their post-secondary education and experience level. If you have post-secondary training in operating the CNC machine, your starting salary will be higher than those without any training. You can negotiate a higher salary when you have experience working in the manufacturing industry or operating the machines.

Opportunities for CNC machinists are available in various industries. If you work in aerospace manufacturing or defence, you will probably earn more than a CNC machinist in the metalwork industry. Your location can also influence your pay. Industrialised locations have more opportunities than small towns, and the demand for CNC machinists increases your salary prospects. 

female wearing red overalls, working in a production setting
female wearing red overalls, working in a production setting

types of CNC machinists

Some types of CNC machinists include:

  • CNC operator: as a CNC operator, you load stock material into the machine and run the parts. The job is usually suitable for beginners since it doesn't involve adjusting the machine specifications and complex tasks.
  • CNC set-up operator: your job is to prepare the program, set up tools, test the program and ascertain that the parts work as expected. In case of a breakdown, you have to fix the problem.
  • CNC programmer: your job is to read and interpret blueprints to determine how to make specific parts. You also write programs to generate the parts you need and pick out the tools required for the process.


working as a CNC machinist

Working as a CNC machinist means using machinery to create essential equipment, which can be highly fulfilling.


education and skills

Some of the educational qualifications for a CNC machinist include:

  • college course: to become a CNC machinist, you need to learn practical engineering skills through a post-secondary course. You can pursue a certificate course like a Level 1 Certificate in performing engineering operations or a Level 2 Certificate in mechanical engineering. For the Level 1 courses, you need 2 GCSEs in grades 3 to 1, while Level 2 courses require 2 GCSEs in grades 9 to 3.
  • apprenticeship: you can explore apprenticeship programmes to become an engineering operative. Some of the advanced apprenticeships available are the furniture CNC technician advanced apprenticeship.
  • experience: some experience makes it easier to find a job in this industry. You don't necessarily need experience as a CNC machinist, although it helps. Most employers look for previous factory experience and technical knowledge. However, you could find an entry-level position with no experience and gain additional skills as you work. You need relevant experience to get high-paying jobs like programmers and supervisors. 

skills and competencies

Some of the skills of a CNC machinist include:

  • software skills: you don't have to be a software expert, but you need to learn how to use specific computer programs when you get hired. As an entry-level employee, you'll have to perform basic functions and make mathematical calculations. Your employer will expect you to learn more about the program as you take on higher positions.
  • physical strength: to work as a CNC machinist, you need to be able to stand for long periods and engage in physical activity. While observing the machine is part of your job, you also have to gather the materials, clean the products that the machine produces, package the parts and complete other physical tasks. Most of these tasks are easy, but you need to be physically fit.
  • detail-oriented skills: CNC machinists need an eye for detail and a perfectionist streak. Every setting on the machine has to be exact. Similarly, you'll need to clean and package the products precisely to your factory's specifications.
  • multi-tasking skills: as a CNC machinist, you juggle multiple duties, from loading stock materials to monitoring the manufacturing process and testing end products. You need multi-tasking skills to succeed in the role.
smiling male wearing protective eyeglasses, gloves, ear plugs
smiling male wearing protective eyeglasses, gloves, ear plugs


FAQs about working as a CNC machinist

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