what is a machine operator?

As a machine operator, you work with machines and equipment. Your work is often in a manufacturing or production plant that mass-produces consumer goods or electronic parts. Some of the machines you are likely to operate include lathes, boring machines, drill presses and precision grinders. You can specialise in running one of these or multiple types of equipment.

Your job as a machine operator often involves repetitive motions like frequent use of foot pedals, levers and switches. Sometimes, you also feed raw materials into the equipment. These roles require physical strength and manual dexterity to lift heavy goods and ensure the proper operation of machines. Machine operators also fine-tune and adjust machine calibrations to improve efficiency and accuracy.

Would working as a machine operator suit your physical fitness and interest in operating machines? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a machine operator role.


machine operator jobs

machine operator salary

According to ONS, the median take-home salary of a machine operator is £25,887 per year. Your compensation package starts at £19,000 annually when you join the profession. Experienced machine operators with exceptional skills and qualifications command higher salaries of over £34,000 per year. You also have various ways of increasing your salary prospects through overtime pay and bonuses.

what factors affect a machine operator's salary?

Most employers use your qualifications and specialised skills to determine your compensation package. Improving your expertise through college training and internships boosts your earnings. Working in major cities with large manufacturing companies increases your salary prospects. Employers are also expected to pay more in cities due to the high cost of living.



types of machine operator

Some specialisation areas in machine operations include:

  • mobile plant machine operators: as a mobile plant operator, you operate or drive cranes and forklift trucks. You also operate mining and extraction machinery in various industries.
  • drilling and boring machine operators: your job is to set up and operate drilling and milling machines. You use the machines to drill holes in various materials like metal and plastic.
  • rolling machine operators: your role is to run rolling mills that shape multiple metals and materials into rods and plates. You also carry out the necessary maintenance on the machines.
  • construction machine operators: as a machine operator in the construction industry, you run equipment like excavation machines and cement mixers.


working as a machine operator

A machine operator uses heavy machinery to accomplish various tasks in manufacturing and production. Let's explore some of the roles and work environments of a machine operator.



education & qualifications

Companies are looking for machine operators who will perform at their best to boost productivity. Some of the primary requirements for this career include the following:

  • education: most employers prefer to hire machine operators with at least GCSEs and post-secondary qualifications. You can improve your employment opportunity with solid mathematics, statistics and computer knowledge. Some companies require more credentials, and you stand a chance of working in the best organisations if you have an associate degree in machining.
  • training: once you are hired, expect to go through on-the-job training. Besides academic qualifications, some institutions offer apprenticeship programmes. A first-time machine operator observes a skilled worker and assists them in some basic tasks under supervision. The programme takes anywhere from a few weeks up to four years, depending on the complexity of the equipment. At the end of the training period, you should have skills that prepare you for more advanced roles in your career. Combining classroom skills with paid on-the-job training is an excellent option.
  • certification: other employers prefer to hire machine operators who have extra certifications. Enrol in a programme to attain a Manufacturing Skill Standards Council Certified Product Technician certificate to master front-line manufacturing production basics. Upon completing the Manufacturing Technician Level 1 certificate, you will gain manufacturing computer-aided skills. You could also consider the Lean Certification that emphasises efficiency and waste minimisation.

skills and competencies

You need to gain the following skills to handle machines in busy manufacturing environments efficiently:

  • attention to detail: the work of a machine operator is very delicate, so you need to pay attention to every process. You will often handle precision equipment, and being off by even a millimetre can cause critical errors. A single mistake results in time wastage and is very expensive to correct.
  • excellent problem-solving skills: as a machine operator, your daily tasks involve assessing why the machines don't perform at peak efficiency and fixing errors to increase output. Such a task requires a person who thinks creatively to develop solutions for very complex issues.
  • analytical skills: a machine operator needs to read and understand blueprints, complex instructions and other specifications. You also need to understand the limits and capabilities of various machines and use the equipment on a specific project.
  • ability to multitask: you should be able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously without causing errors. While working, you need to control operations and, at the same time, assess performance. Multitasking skills will help you complete various tasks effectively and correctly.
  • physical strength: as a machine operator, you have to be physically fit and able to lift multiple weights and handle machines. The job also involves physical activity, and fitness reduces fatigue.



FAQs about working as a machine operator

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