How to Become a Machinist in 5 Steps

Discover how to launch a career as a machinist. Learn about education and training requirements, salary and potential job growth to see if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Machining & Manufacturing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Machinists operate computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools, such as lathes and milling machines, to cut and produce precision parts for machines, instruments and tools. Because technology is rapidly evolving, machinists are continually learning new methods and techniques. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about this career.

Education Required High school diploma
Training Apprenticeship recommended; continual on-the-job training
Key Skills Math and computer skills, ability to read blueprints, manual dexterity, accuracy and attention to detail
Certification National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials recommended
Job Growth (2012-2022) 9 %*
Average Salary (2013) $41,020*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Research the Career Duties of a Machinist

You may have different job duties, depending on your job title. For example, as a production machinist, you might mass-produce hundreds of pieces of one kind of part, and as a maintenance machinist, you would replace broken parts for machinery that already exists. Basically, the job involves setting up machinery and tools, cutting and adjusting work pieces, monitoring the heating and cooling temperatures of metal parts and testing for defects. Replacing defective cutting tools and monitoring machine performance are among your other job responsibilities.

Step 2: Take Preparatory Courses

At minimum, you'll need a high school diploma to become a machinist. While it's possible to learn the skills of a machinist through on-the-job training, the vast majority of machinists learn through structured classroom and practical training. Manufacturer or union-sponsored apprenticeships are an ideal way of getting the necessary training, but admission to such a program can be difficult to manage.

You can prepare yourself and become a prime candidate by taking courses in metal shop, drafting and blueprint reading. Computer courses are also important, because CNC machine tools will often be used in your work. Math classes such as trigonometry and algebra will help you in making precise measurements.

Step 3: Complete an Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship program can usually take as long as four years. You'll study various aspects of the machinery trade, including safety practices, CNC machine operation basics, metallurgy, computer-aided design (CAD) and CNC programming. Other areas covered in the classroom include math, physics and geometric dimensions. Apprenticeship or 2-year associate's degree programs might also be found at some technical and community colleges, but, as the BLS noted, you'll still need a large amount of on-the-job training to become a proficient machinist.

Step 4: Obtain the NIMS Credential

When you have completed an apprenticeship program, you can become a credentialed worker. The NIMS credential is strongly recommended if you'd like to enhance your professional image and increase the likelihood of securing employment. The National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) administers performance-based examinations for metalworkers that consist of written and practical components. You could acquire such credentials as the CNC Setup Programmer, Certified Journeyworker, or NIMS Certified Machinist.

Step 5: Advance your Career

If possible, you might go on to become a tool and die maker or a CNC programmer in the company you work for, or you could take on managerial or supervisory positions. If you have business skills, you can also work for yourself after you've acquired sufficient work experience. In this instance, you'll require excellent communication skills to network with customers and generate additional business. You'll also need extensive job knowledge to fulfill complex or unusual orders.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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