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CNC Operator Colleges & Programs

Interested in becoming a CNC operator? Find out what kind of colleges offer CNC operator training, the types of programs you can join, what these programs will cover, and more by reading below.

What Kind of Programs Offer Training to Become a CNC Operator?

Computer Numeric Control (CNC) operators, sometimes called CNC machinists, are skilled professionals who work in industrial settings and use highly precise machines to cut, mill, and turn metal, plastic or other materials to create any number of objects used every day. Programs for the training of CNC operators are generally offered through community colleges, technical colleges, and vocational schools. These programs most commonly result in certificates or diplomas although associate's degrees in machining technology do exist. CNC operators may benefit from professional certification, and many programs are built around obtaining entry-level certification.

Programs Diplomas, certificates, and associate's degrees
Common Courses Numeric control, blueprint reading, advanced manufacturing
Optional Certification NIMS level I-II certification in CNC mill or lathe, or CNC mill or lathe programming

How do CNC Operator Programs Work?

CNC operator certificate programs are short-term courses of study designed to teach the basics required to work the position as quickly as possible. They take one or two semesters and generally include four to eight focused classes. Diploma programs for CNC operators take about a year to complete and may include a broader depth of knowledge with related topics and baseline education, such as applied mathematics. Associate's degree programs take 2 years and include areas like CNC programming alongside significant general education. It may be possible at some schools to use credits from a completed certificate or diploma program towards an associate's degree although this isn't always the case.

What Will I Learn in a CNC Operator Training Program?

CNC operator programs at the certificate level cover topics such as numerical control techniques, machine shop safety and basics, reading blueprints, and the fundamentals of operating CNC machines. Diploma programs may include these topics in addition to CNC programming, introductions to other machines such as manual mills and lathes, and more general subjects such as workplace communication.

Much of the additional coursework for an associate's degree is made up of the general education requirement, but might also cover topics like computer-aided design and manufacturing beyond what is typical of certificates, or include other areas of machining. Most programs emphasize hands-on learning. Internships or other on-the-job training experiences are also often a part of these programs.

Do Programs Lead to CNC Operator Certification?

CNC operator programs are often structured to allow students who have completed them to become certified by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). The NIMS certification exams consist of a performance assessment and a theory assessment, ensuring that examinees both understand what they've been taught and are capable of producing work in accordance with that knowledge. NIMS offers certifications at level I (entry level), level II (journey), and level III (master), with CNC operator training programs providing what is needed to achieve level I certification.

Different certification tests exist for CNC mill operation, CNC lathe operation, CNC milling programming, and CNC lathe programming, so consider carefully which certification would be best for you. After holding the level I certification, CNC operators may want to hone their skills and consider pursuing the level II certification, which may allow for less strict supervision and greater responsibilities.