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How to become a Machine Operator

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What is a Machine operator?

As technology continues to advance, so too do the machines used in production and manufacturing across various industries. If you’re interested in working with machines – and figuring out the latest on how they work,  perhaps you can find a rewarding career as a Machine Operator.

Also referred to as machinists and equipment operators, machine operators are vital to a variety of industries. As a machine operator, you would be responsible for the usage, maintenance, and set-up of a wide range of machinery, from Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines to forklifts, cranes, and more.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what it means to be a machine operator, as well as the salary, requirements, and career options.

What’s the difference between a Machinist and a Machine Operator

A machine operator and a machinist play very similar roles, and the title can sometimes be used interchangeably. However, there is one key difference that sets them apart. A machinist will often have additional experience and/or training. Because of this, the machine operator will sometimes report directly to the machinist.

Common types of machine operators also include CNC machinist, CNC operator, die setter, and injection molding technician.

How much do machine operators make?

Salaries can vary significantly based on many factors, but generally speaking, the salary for an entry-level machine operator typically falls between $35,145 and $44,264, with an average of $39,109. A more skilled and experienced machine operator can expect to earn between $46,914 and $60,171.

Some of the factors that can contribute to the earning potential of machine operators are location, education, experience, and specialization. For example, sectors such as utility and military/government typically offer a higher salary.

What are the duties of a machine operator?

Because machine operators can specialize in a wide range of industries, the day-to-day operation will vary greatly based on industry standards/operations and machinery. Another component that will vary greatly is the material a machine operator will work with, including metals, wood, glass, ceramics, plastics, and composites.

Despite all the variables, most machine operators share the same basic responsibilities:

  • Blueprints: Machinists must be able to read and interpret blueprints and sketch designs.
  • Setup: Installation (when applicable), setup, and calibration of machines.
  • Prep: Using templates and specs, choose, install, and adjust alignment of drills, cutters, dies, etc.
  • Run: Handle heavy equipment, execute production runs and test runs to ensure QA standards, and oversee machines during the run process.
  • Maintenance: Perform routine maintenance checks to ensure all components are up to regulation and running efficiently. Troubleshoot errors when needed and provide solutions. Most machine operators will perform their own repairs and call in a professional repair person for more complex tasks.
  • Logs: Maintain detailed production logs.
  • Regulations: Be familiar with and follow all current safety standards and protocols. See osha.gov for details on OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) regulations.

How to become a machine operator

The machine operator career path has a low barrier of entry since it does not require advanced degrees and it is very common for machine operators to train on the job.

Below is a basic outline of the steps you can encounter on your path to becoming a machine operator:

Basic Education: A High School Diploma or GED is usually necessary to begin working as a machine operator. While in school, subjects such as geometry and trigonometry, calculus, drafting, and metalworking electives (if available) will come in very helpful for this trade. You’ll also want knowledge of basic tools and techniques.

Entry-Level Position: If you already know which field or industry you’d like to specialize in, be sure to look for positions that can help you achieve that goal. If you’re not already certain, it’s great to look for a position within a company that offers growth and educational opportunities such as tuition reimbursements, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, etc.

Specialization: Pursue continuing education via internship, state apprenticeship boards, trade schools, community colleges, or certification programs to gain a competitive advantage within the industry and sector you’d like to continue your career. Obtaining relevant certifications, like the certified machinist or OSHA 10-Hour Safety Training Certificate, can be beneficial to advancing in the field.

Apprenticeship: These paid opportunities combine on-the-job training with classroom-style learning and can last anywhere up to four years. Apprenticeships usually include 300-600 hours of classroom learning in tandem with 2,000-4,000 hours of paid on-the-job training.

Stay Up to Date: As technology advances, you must be prepared to also advance their knowledge and machine operator skills to better meet current demands.

Machine operator career path

If you think of a machine operator as the first step in this career, you’ll find a vast range of potential for job growth and career direction.

With the right certifications and/or training, machine operators can advance to become production supervisors or team leaders in their current fields or shift into more specialized careers such as CNC machine operator, injection molding machine operator, packaging machine operator, forklift operator, printing machine operator, and heavy machine operator.

Unlike machinists working in logistics and manufacturing, heavy machine operators are more likely to work with several types of power equipment such as bulldozers, diggers, motor graders, tractors, and cranes, and are most often found working in construction or mining.

The job growth potential for machine operators varies greatly based on the specialization you choose, for example, material moving machine operators are expected to see a 4% growth from 2022 to 2032, while machinists and tool and die makers are projected to show little or no change.

That being said, a career that is so intrinsically tied to today’s latest and greatest technology can be expected to ebb and flow with the latest technological advancements and trends.

Get your machine operator career in motion

Want to jump-start your career as a machine operator? ResourceMFG can help.

As a specialty brand of Employbridge, we are dedicated to connecting qualified talent with rewarding positions at leading companies across the nation. With competitive salaries, comprehensive benefits, and an emphasis on well-being, we’re here to help you jump-start a successful and fulfilling career today.

Contact your local branch to learn more about how we can help you find the right role.

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