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Computer Control Operator Job Description, Career as a Computer Control Operator, Salary, Employment

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

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Median—$14.75 per hour

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Computer control operators use computer-controlled machines to cut metal, plastic, or glass precisely, shaping a finished part or product. They perform tasks using computer-controlled machinery that previously were done by human operators, such as drilling, cutting, milling, grinding, and lathing. An operator is in charge of transmitting programmed instructions to the machinery, which may range from a basic drill to a complex system of metalworking instruments. The finished parts these operators produce are used in aircraft, construction, automobile, and similar industries.

The efficiency of a numerically controlled system is that one machine can be programmed to perform many operations. For example, through numerical control, the automobile industry has automated many machining processes. Numerical control is also widely used in industries that use metal alloys, such as the aerospace industry. Metal alloys are substances that are composed of metal and one or more other elements. Steel is a common alloy. Machinists also use numerical controls to machine even the most difficult alloys to precise dimensions.

The operator's responsibilities depend on the type and capabilities of the machinery. A machine is generally equipped to use different tools and can be programmed to perform several tasks. Operators position the block of metal, plastic, or glass on the computer numerically controlled machines. They then set the controls and monitor the machine for problems that occur during the machining process. Problems can include a dull cutting tool or excessive vibration. More skilled operators may be required to modify the computer program to fix programming problems. An operator may be responsible for several machines or for more than one type of machine.

Education and Training Requirements

Computer control operators should have a high school degree, basic knowledge of computers and electronics, and several years of experience with conventional machine tools. Operators train in various ways, from apprenticeships, informally on the job, or in vocational programs. The least skilled operators, who run very basic controls, may need only minimal on-the-job training.

A computer control operator sets up, monitors, and transmits programmed instructions to machinery via computer controls that are built into that machinery. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

The National Institute of Metalworking Skills developed a set of skills standards that have been adopted by a number of vocational training facilities and colleges. Classroom training includes computer programming basics. Graduates of these programs are certified by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills.

Getting the Job

Due to a shortage of qualified computer control operators, many companies promote these workers from within, training shop helpers or operators of conventional machine tools to use one or more types of numerically controlled equipment. Workers with good mechanical and computation skills are most likely to be selected. Graduates of National Institute of Metalworking Skills certificate programs can apply directly to machine shops. State employment offices and classified help wanted ads in the newspaper also list job openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

The number of computer control operator jobs is expected to decline through 2014 as advances in computer numerically controlled machines result in increasing automation of the production process. However, the shortage of people entering training programs means that certified applicants should have good job opportunities. With additional training, which is usually provided by the company, an operator may advance to a computer control programming position. Operators may also be promoted to supervisory jobs.

Working Conditions

Modern machine shops are usually clean, well lit, and well ventilated. Computer numerically controlled machines are enclosed to minimize workers' exposure to noise, dust, and chemicals. However, operators wear protective equipment such as earplugs and safety goggles to further reduce the risk of injury from flying debris or excessive machinery noise. Much of the work must be done while standing, and some heavy lifting may be involved.

Operators may be required to work evening and night shifts, as computer numerically controlled machines are expensive and companies want to boost productivity. During busy production periods, operators may work more than a forty-hour workweek.

Where to Go for More Information

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 Machined Products Association
6700 West Snowville Rd.
Brecksville, OH 44141
(440) 526-0300

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

Earnings and Benefits

The median salary for a computer control operator was $14.75 per hour in 2004. Operators in metalworking machinery manufacturing earned the highest median hourly wage of $16.34. Operators in plastics product manufacturing earned the lowest median hourly wage of $11.78. During production slowdowns, workers may be laid off or have their hours reduced. During peak periods, they may be able to earn overtime pay. Benefits usually 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