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CNC Operator Career Information and Education Requirements

Job Descriptions January 17, 2013

Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinery is operated by CNC operators who shape and cut plastic and metal for different types of manufacturing. These professionals are required to have mechanical skills and the ability to read blueprints. Increasingly, CNC operators are expected by many employers to have computer programming skills and be able to use manufacturing programs and computer-aided design. In this article, we will look at the steps that need to be taken by a CNC Operator to follow a successful career path.

CNC Operator Education Requirements

Many CNC operators receive on the job training and also take part in apprenticeship programs; however, some enroll for associate degree courses in manufacturing technology offered at technical schools and community colleges. They can choose from certificate programs offered by commercial trade schools, community colleges and vocational schools. CNC operators get promoted regularly to CNC setup operator or CNC programmer; additional education may be needed to be able to occupy these positions, such as an advanced computer programming course. CNC operators can seek employment in the shipbuilding and aerospace industries; these positions require them to maintain a bachelor degree (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (

Coursework for CNC Operator

Curricula for degree and certificate programs include subject areas such as CNC tooling, blueprint reading, setup and operation of CNC machines, and basic math. Coursework in many programs includes computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), in addition to basic programming skills for various milling applications and CNC laser and lathe operations.

Apprenticeship Program

In apprenticeship programs, CNC operators are taught manual operation of CNC machines and the use of machine tools through hands on training; the course also includes classroom lectures; the curriculum includes subjects such as CAD/CAM, physics, math and CNC programming. State tooling and machining apprenticeship associations also offer apprenticeship programs for CNC operators. During such apprenticeship that typically lasts about four years, the CNC operator does a full-time job with the sponsoring employer.

Career Potential

In 2008, there were 157,800 individuals employed as CNC operators in the United States. Equipment used in the shaping and cutting of materials is monitored by CNC operators. Such materials are used in manufacturing various goods including televisions and cars among other things. The first step is to numerically program CNC machinery with design specifications; thereafter, CNC operators get busy to ensure proper running of the machinery; to this end, they detect problems such as overheating and vibrations. CNC milling and CNC lathe and laser operation are two of several specialized tasks that CNC operators can choose from. The programming, setting up and starting of machines are completed by advanced CNC operators who are known as CNC setup operators or CNC programmers. However, these tasks are also being performed by CNC operators now days.

Required Skills for CNC Operator

CNC operators need to have experience with the equipment and exceptional mechanical aptitude, such as lathes and lasers, machine tools, and precision grinders, used for milling, grinding or cutting. In addition to strong problem-solving and troubleshooting skills, CNC operators need to have excellent analytical skills and the ability to read mechanical drawings and blueprints.

Career Forecast and Salary Information

In 2008, operators of computer-controlled machine tools working with plastic and metal earned an average hourly wage of $16.03; the highest hourly wage was $18.89, which was in the aerospace industrywhile the lowest hourly wage of $14.19 were paid by plastics products manufacturing firms. Job growth of seven percent has been projected for CNC operators during the decade from 2008 to 2018. This growth is due to CNC machines replacing older machinery. CNC operators who knows programming and have prior experience working with various CNC machines will probably get the best-paying jobs in the profession (source:

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