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Machine Operator and Tender Job Description, Career as a Machine Operator and Tender, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training None

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Machine operators and tenders run high-speed machine tools such as drill presses, lathes, milling machines, boring machines, and precision grinding machines used to mass-produce metal and plastic parts. They may have more specific job titles, according to the type of machines with which they work. For example, they may be called "drill press operators" or "turret lathe operators." Unlike all-round machinists, who are highly skilled and able to perform complex operations on many kinds of machine tools, machine tool operators are less-skilled workers and are generally familiar with only one or two tools. The widespread use of automated machinery and "lean" production techniques, however, increasingly require machine operators and tenders to rotate between different machines. Rotating assignments result in more varied and interesting work, but also require workers to have a wider range of skills. Machine operators and tenders work in factories that produce metal and plastic products, machinery of various kinds, and transportation equipment.

Skilled machine operators and tenders work in tool rooms or production departments in factories that produce metal parts, machinery, or transportation equipment. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Machine operators and tenders perform repetitive jobs on machine tools that have already been set up by skilled workers. Operators place the metal stock (or unfinished piece of metal) in the machine. In addition, they may work levers, buttons, or foot pedals to bring the cutting tool or drill bit to the stock. Operators tend their machine tools and make minor adjustments when necessary. Using simple gauges and other instruments, they test the finished metal part to make sure that the machine tool is working properly. If a major repair or adjustment is in order, they ask a skilled machinist for help.

Machine operators and tenders also operate injection-molding machines that make plastic parts and products. Operators monitor the many gauges on injection-molding machines and adjust different inputs, pressures, and speeds to maintain quality. Tenders remove the cooled plastic from the mold and load the product into boxes.

Education and Training Requirements

Machine operators and tenders generally perform repetitive tasks over and over that are learned quickly on the job. Trainees begin by observing experienced workers. They then often become tenders, supplying materials, starting and stopping the machine, or removing finished products from it. As they learn operators' skills, they become responsible for their own machines. Most operators learn the basic machine operations and functions in a few weeks, but may need a year or more to learn the most difficult skills.

Machine operators and tenders usually need no special education. Employers may prefer people with high school diplomas. Experience working with machinery is a plus. High school courses in blueprint reading, shop, and mathematics are good preparation for this kind of work. Because machinery is becoming more automated, basic computer skills are also helpful.

Getting the Job

Apply directly to companies or manufacturing firms. State employment offices may have job listings. Check newspaper want ads and Internet job search sites for work as a machine operator and tender.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Certification in a particular machining skill, either through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills or the Society of Plastics Industry, can enhance job opportunities and prospects for advancement. Tenders can become operators. Advancement for operators usually takes the form of higher pay. However, some operators can become setup operators or train to become machinists, tool and die makers, or computer control operators or programmers.

Machine operator and tender positions are expected to decline through 2014. Widespread adoption of automated machinery, foreign competition, and increased production efficiency are expected to reduce the demand for machine operators and tenders. However, a large number of machine operators and tenders are expected to retire by 2010, leading to some openings in this field. The most experienced operators and workers who can operate multiple machines should have the best employment prospects.

Working Conditions

Machine operators and tenders usually stand while they work. Their work areas are generally noisy but well lit and air-conditioned. To prevent accidents, operators wear protective clothing, earplugs, and safety glasses and follow strict safety regulations. They generally work forty hours per week. Shift work is often required. Premium wages are generally paid for night shifts. Overtime is sometimes available. Many machine operators and tenders belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Pl.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
(301) 967-4500

National Institute for Metalworking Skills
3251 Old Lee Hwy., Ste. 205
Fairfax, VA 22030
(703) 352-4971

National Tooling and Machining Association
9300 Livingston Rd.
Fort Washington, MD 20744
(800) 248-6862

Precision Metalforming Association Educational Foundation
6363 Oak Tree Blvd.
Independence, OH 44131-2500
(216) 901-8800

Society of Plastics Industry
1667 K St., NW, Ste. 1000
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 974-5200

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for machine operators and tenders vary by the size of the company, whether they belong to a union, and skill level and experience of the operator. Temporary employees are generally paid less than company-employed workers and receive no benefits. In 2004 the highest median hourly earnings of $21.28 were paid to model makers, metal and plastics. The lowest median hourly wage of $11.63 was paid to molding, coremaking, and casting machine operators and tenders. Benefits for company-employed workers generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production