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Machinist Job Description, Career as a Machinist, Salary, Employment

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

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Median—$16.33 per hour

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Machinists are among the most highly skilled industrial workers. Machinists use power-operated machine tools that mass-produce metal parts and tools. These are precision parts and tools used in building various kinds of engines, machinery, and other products. Unlike less-skilled machine operators and tenders who know how to operate only one or two machine tools, machinists have a thorough knowledge of many kinds of machine tools. They increasingly use computer numerically controlled machines.

Machinists must review blueprints and specifications of a particular product and plan the production process, including where and how to cut the work piece, the correct tools and materials for the job, and the sequence of steps to follow in production of the product. They also perform the machining operations, watch for problems in the production process, and check the accuracy of the finished piece against blueprints. Because machining technology is changing quickly, machinists must constantly learn new techniques and learn how to operate new machines.

Machining is exacting work. Machinists must finish the metal or other material to specific tolerances. Tolerance is the amount of leeway permitted. For example, if the specifications require machinists to work a two-inch cylinder to a tolerance of one-thousandth of an inch, the finished piece must measure two inches, accurate to one-thousandth of an inch. To check the accuracy of their work, machinists use precision measuring instruments.

Machinists are skilled workers who are able to perform complex operations on many kinds of machine tools, including drill presses, lathes, milking machines, boring machines, and precision grinding machines. (© Peter Vadnai/Corbis.)

Some machinists specialize as machine setters, who are employed by factories and machine shops that produce a great volume of parts. Machine setters prepare a number of machines for use by machine operators and tenders. Working from blueprints or written specifications, machine setters choose the tools and sequence of operations for each job. They adjust the machines to determine the speed at which they should operate. They also instruct and supervise machine operators and tenders and check the accuracy of their work.

Maintenance machinists repair or make new parts for existing machinery. These highly skilled machinists must refer to the blueprints for the machinery and plan and perform the machining operations required to create new machine parts.

Most machinists work in manufacturing industries or in small machine shops. They are employed in plants that produce machinery for a variety of industries or transportation equipment such as motor vehicles or aerospace products. Many work in small machine shops where

Education and Training Requirements

Increasing numbers of machinists are receiving two-year associate degrees at community colleges. These workers still need several years of on-the-job experience before becoming fully qualified machinists. Some machinists train in formal four-year apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs generally provide both on-the-job and classroom training. Admission to an apprenticeship program requires a high school education. Courses in metalworking, drafting, trigonometry, and blueprint reading are useful. The armed services also provide training for machinists. Experienced machinists sometimes must take additional company-sponsored training courses to learn new technologies.

The National Institute of Metalworking Skills has 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

Applicants may apply directly to companies or to union offices. School placement offices and state employment offices list employment and apprenticeship opportunities. Newspaper help wanted ads and Internet job sites may also list openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Machinists are highly skilled workers and command good wages. Some machinists specialize further in tool and die making. Some become computer numerically controlled programmers, while others go into instrument making or repair work, advance to supervisory jobs in their factory, or open their own shops.

Employment opportunities for machinists are expected to grow more slowly than the average through 2014, as technological advances continue to boost productivity. However, skilled machinists should continue to be in demand and many openings should arise each year to replace workers leaving the field.

Working Conditions

Machinists work around high-speed machinery. They must stand much of the workday. Their work areas are generally well lit and ventilated but noisy. Machinists are exposed to machine oil, metal filings, and unpleasant odors. To prevent accidents or injury, machinists wear protective gear, such as safety glasses and earplugs, and follow safety regulations.

Machinists should be good at working with their hands and must be extremely accurate workers. They generally find much of their work creative and challenging. Machinists usually work forty hours per week. Evening and weekend shifts are often required as companies justify the expense of machinery by boosting production. Overtime is often available. Layoffs are common during economic downturns. Maintenance machinists enjoy greater job security since repair of expensive machinery is critical to manufacturing operations, even during periods of low production. Many machinists belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Place
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

Earnings and Benefits

The median income for machinists in 2004 was $16.33 per hour. Workers in the aerospace product and parts manufacturing industry earned the highest median hourly wage, at $17.78. Temporary workers in employment services earned the lowest median hourly wage, at $11.09. Apprentices earn much less than machinists, but as training and skills increase, wages follow suit. Benefits generally include health insurance, paid holidays and vacations, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

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