what is a CNC operator?

A CNC operator works in the metalworking industry, producing machine parts using a computer numerical control machine. As a CNC operator, you operate CNC machines and routers and employ computer programming skills to sculpt and finish component prototypes. CNC operators are critical members of any industrial engineering team. Due to the nature of the work, CNC operators undertake rigorous training to accurately operate their machines and maintain the required high-quality standards.

CNC operator tasks

CNC operators work on machinery to cut, sculpt and finish machine component prototypes. These can be anything from car parts to metal tools and hardware supplies. Additionally, you assign quality control checks from time to time and report any issues to CNC programmers to make necessary machine adjustments. Typically, CNC operators work in a factory setting, and job responsibilities differ depending on where you are in your career.

While CNC operators are generally found in the metalworking industry, your speciality is used in different industries. For example, a CNC operator makes parts for the automotive, hardware supply and housing industries.

Would working as a CNC operator suit your interest in design and technology? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a CNC operator role.

CNC operator jobs

average CNC operator salary

According to National Careers, the median salary of an entry-level CNC operator is £20,000 per year. An expert CNC operator with years of experience can negotiate a salary of up to £35,000 annually. Since most CNC operators work in shifts, some employers have higher hourly rates for working overtime. The role involves operating machinery that can cause severe injuries. Therefore, most companies have private medical and life insurance schemes as part of the compensation package.

factors that affect CNC operator pay

A CNC operator's salary relies on various factors. For instance, relevant work experience determines the compensation package. With minimal experience, you earn an entry-level wage, while senior CNC operators with extensive experience in the industry demand higher pay. Your educational achievements and additional qualifications boost your compensation package. Training to gain specialised skills or specialising in operating specific CNC machines also improves your salary prospects. While CNC operators work shifts, deadlines and additional responsibilities usually require extra work hours. Your take-home pay will be higher if you are willing to work overtime and unsociable hours like evenings and weekends.

Close up - Smiling female looking away.
Close up - Smiling female looking away.

types of CNC operators

CNC operators can specialise in different aspects of operating computer numerical control machines. Some types include:

  • CNC programmer: as a CNC programmer, you study numerical control programming languages and use your expertise to prepare instructions that the CNC machines can read and perform. Your job involves reading blueprints and figures to understand how to make a part. From the blueprints, you can select the tools and write the programmes.
  • CNC set-up operator: as a CNC set-up operator, you load the programme and prepare the machines for operation. You select and set up the tools, test the programme and ensure everything works as expected.
  • junior CNC operator: as a junior CNC operator, you are the button pusher. That means you load stock materials to the machines and run parts.



working as a CNC operator

Working as a CNC operator is an excellent starting point for a career in various fields, especially mechanical engineering and industrial manufacturing. Read on to find out what your responsibilities and workspace will look like.


education and skills

Most people join a CNC operator career through college courses or apprenticeships. Some of the requirements include:


  • college: to become a CNC operator, you need practical engineering skills relevant to employers. Completing a Level 1 Certificate in performing engineering operations or engineering and manufacturing gets you started in the role. A Level 2 Certificate in mechanical engineering is another entry-level course. Level 1 courses only need 2 GCSEs at grades 3 to 1, while Level 2 courses need two GCSEs at grades 9 to 3.
  • apprenticeships: complete an intermediate apprenticeship to become an engineering operative or find advanced CNC technician apprenticeships. The apprenticeship allows you to learn as you train for the role.


CNC operator skills and competencies

As a CNC operator, you require the following skills and qualities:

  • the ability to use computer-aided manufacturing to measure dimensions, set parameters and check for quality controls while staying on top of the latest software.
  • engineering skills to operate, maintain, clean and calibrate machines and other tools.
  • problem-solving and adaptive skills to resolve quality issues, errors in drawings and problems with tools.
  • the ability to read technical drawings and blueprints to create machines and workpieces according to the expected specifications.
woman in operating a machine
woman in operating a machine


FAQs about working as a CNC operator

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