How to Become a CNC Machinist (With Salary Information)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines turn wood, plastic and other materials into finished products, which can be anything from phone cases to car parts. A CNC machinist builds, operates and maintains these machines using intricate knowledge of technology and computing. If you enjoy physics and technology, a career as a CNC mechanic may interest you. In this article, we define this job, detail how to become a CNC machinist, list the primary duties, skills and answer some FAQs about this profession.

What is a CNC machinist?

A CNC machinist is a technological expert who operates computer-based manufacturing machines. CNC machinists have an advanced understanding of physics and engineering and can build, operate and troubleshoot these machines. CNC machinists also examine the final product and check that it meets the industry standard. If it doesn't, CNC machinists may analyse whether this is due to an issue with the machinery.

Related: What Does a Machinist Do? (And How to Become One)

How to become a CNC machinist

Below are steps on how to become a CNC machinist:

1. Complete secondary school

CNC machinists usually complete secondary school with qualifications in mathematics, English and science. They can have a particular interest in physics and similar subjects. Employers rarely require specific ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) grades, but a high rank may be valuable in getting into university.

2. Decide which type of CNC machinist you want to become

There are a few types of CNC machinists and the type you decide to become may impact your studies and preparation for the career. If you know the type of CNC machinist that you want to be, you may apply for more relevant courses and apprenticeships. The types of machinists are:

  • Operating machinists: These professionals work with CNC machines in their initial stages, ensuring they operate effectively.

  • Set-up machinists: These machinists monitor equipment as it processes, ensuring that it functions correctly.

  • Programming machinists: These professionals are experts in programming with CNC and can alter CNC programmes to ensure effective production.

3. Complete a bachelor's degree

You can undertake a bachelor's degree to have the highest chance of securing employment. Relevant bachelor's degrees include physics, technology, engineering and computing. If you have the option, you can choose CNC machinery-related modules throughout your degree. You may also consider joining relevant clubs and societies during university, such as a technology or computing group. Through this, you can collaborate with other technology enthusiasts and learn new skills.

4. Consider other qualifications

You can undertake some other qualifications instead of a degree. TAFE offers some relevant courses, including a Certificate IV in Engineering (CNC Programming). During this course, you may learn some of the most relevant specialist skills for becoming a CNC machinist, which can strengthen your resume when applying for jobs. Throughout this course, you can major in one type of CNC machinery. This can help you develop a specialisation and secure a job in the future. Employers may also require candidates to have a fitter and turner trade certificate.

5. Apply for entry-level jobs or apprenticeships

You can use online job boards to find relevant vacancies. With suitable qualifications, you may apply for entry-level engineering or toolmaking positions or you can consider completing an apprenticeship. Employers looking for CNC machinists typically require five years of experience, but you may apply for an apprenticeship without prior experience. An apprenticeship specific to CNC machinery can help you develop vocational skills. These skills often include safety, metallurgy and computer-aided design. Alternatively, you can work in a relevant entry-level engineering position and focus on CNC machinery.

Related: What Does an Engineer Do? (Plus 12 Types of Engineers)

6. Grow in the career

Once you've completed a relevant apprenticeship or have adequate vocational experience, you can apply for CNC positions. These are available across various industries, including transport, defence, oil and gas. You may first work under supervision as you become fully educated in the intricacies of CNC machinery. After a few years, you may work unaccompanied and eventually become an expert in the field, operating as a supervisor or manager.

Duties of a CNC machinist

Below are some of the day-to-day duties of a CNC machinist:

  • setting up CNC machines so that they can perform various tasks

  • translating blueprints into computer instructions for the tasks

  • preparing raw materials before a machine processes them

  • testing the machinery to check that it is running as expected

  • isolating any issues

  • finding solutions to issues

  • monitoring machinery as it creates the desired final product

  • checking the finished product to ensure it looks and operates accordingly

  • maintaining the CNC machinery

  • staying updated with relevant safety procedures and ensuring that the workplace is compliant

  • training and managing junior CNC machinists

CNC machinist abilities and skills

Below are some hard and soft skills for prospective CNC machinists:

Technical knowledge

One of the most important skills of a CNC machinist is typically technological knowledge. Candidates generally understand how machinery works and can transfer their knowledge to new machinery and concepts. You may already have an aptitude for technology, but you can improve these skills while studying or doing an apprenticeship.

Physics

CNC machinists are typically aware of how different types of machinery work and may have a strong understanding of various physics modules. For example, you can use knowledge of electrical circuits to isolate problems in CNC machines. You may have good secondary-level qualifications or a degree in physics.

Related: 13 Jobs in Physics (With Salary Information and Duties)

Computer-aided design

Candidates may not create computer-aided design (CAD) images themselves but can typically translate these designs to instructions for the CNC machine. They may analyse a CAD design made by a CAD technician and calculate what to tell the machine to create the proposed product. They may do the same for other blueprints and types of drawing.

Mathematics

Most CNC machinists have good mathematical abilities. You may use mathematics when analysing problems with the CNC machines or while coding. Advanced qualifications are not usually essential, but you may find it helpful to have secondary qualifications and to practice your numerical capabilities frequently.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving is typically integral to CNC machinery. You may use problem-solving skills when working with machinery to isolate particular issues. For example, if you notice a problem in a finished product, you may analyse the product and deduce the issue through keen problem-solving capabilities.

Teamwork

Teamwork is typically an important part of being a CNC machinist. CNC machinists may work with a range of other professionals, like design engineers and maintenance technicians. CNC professionals may detail any issues that the machine has and work with others to fix any problems and maintain well-running machines. Good communication abilities and knowing when to delegate tasks to other people are important attributes of a CNC machinist.

Related: 14 Reasons Why Teamwork Is Important in the Workplace

Responsibility

Many CNC machinists are comfortable with a high level of responsibility. They are typically in charge of complex and advanced machines and may make decisions regarding safety. You may accept responsibility for anything that occurs due to these machines.

CNC machinist average salary

A CNC machinist earns an average salary of $94,544 per year. This can vary depending on which state and city they work in, their level of expertise and their employer. Typically, candidates may have an increase in wages after working as a CNC machinist for a few years. The most experienced CNC machinists can earn over $100,000 per year.

FAQs about CNC machinists

Here are some frequently asked questions about being a CNC machinist:

What hours does a CNC machinist work?

CNC machinists typically work standard hours from Monday to Friday. If they have any particularly pressing projects, they may work overtime. Weekend work is usually rare for CNC machinists, unless they have an urgent issue to resolve. Because most CNC machinists have a high level of training, they usually work full-time hours. Part-time work may be available for candidates later on in their career.

Where does a CNC machinist work?

CNC machinists may work in machine shops or the manufacturing part of a factory. Their work usually focuses on one department and they may be in charge of a few machines. Employing industries include shipbuilding, aerospace, automotive vehicles, oil and gas, marine and defence. Some advanced CNC machinists may also visit other factories or establishments to offer their opinion on different machinery or operate freelance.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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