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Machining for a Living — Machinists Talk Career Development

Drawing tools on top of engineering plan

We know from experience that the machinist trade is unique in the diverse skills and disciplines it can encompass, from manual machining to the ever-advancing computer numerical control (CNC) machining technique. One of our favorite places to check in on the machinist-to-machinist conversation is the Machinist’s subreddit, /r/machinists. This time around, we tapped into the conversation about skills training and the best places to work within this trade.

School vs. work

An aspiring machinist asked whether he should go to school for skills training or if he was better off seeking such training on the job. As we see in almost every skilled trade, veterans usually suggest a “blend of both.”

“Find the right gig and learn on the floor while you go to school. A bigger production shop might pay a bit more, but a good smaller job shop will likely be willing to do more training and work with you on your schedule. Your first job should be at a place that invests in you as a machinist. When you interview come prepared and ask a lot of questions, show interest and let them know you want to make this your career. I hired someone recently just because he was the first person ever to bring me a copy of his resume.”

We attest to the importance, for machinists and all skilled tradespeople, of a smartly written, resume as not just a nice-to-have but a must for landing the job. A recruiter can help highlight your achievements, to ensure that your resume is tailored to your next job.

The apprentice path

In one online forum, a poster asked if seeking out an apprenticeship was a smart step towards career advancement, and if most companies offer the opportunity to study under an experienced machinist.

One poster wrote, “If you are working for a production shop I would doubt that they would offer you an apprenticeship. If you are working at a job shop, it would probably be possible. Where I work, they offer both toolmaking and machinist apprenticeships. Currently, we have one machinist apprentice and seven toolmaker apprentices. One of the toolmaker apprentices is going to be going into CNC once he is done [training].”

Interestingly, the same poster closed his advice with an equally strong insight about the link between skills and compensation, saying, “Remember — you don’t necessarily need the slip to get paid well; sometimes just gaining the knowledge and contacts can serve you well.”

Time equals money

It’s tough to beat the advice offered by one experienced machinist to an inquiring up-and-comer asking the two age-old questions of any trade: Are jobs tough to get without experience? And, how much can I expect to make, now and in the future?

One thoughtful machinist career advisor’s post is worth sharing in full: “Look for a CNC operator opening with no experience required. You’ll start off around $12 per hour, and get the chance to find out if it’s a route you want to go down. Starting from an operator position, a person with the right stuff will be able to grow and become a machinist or programmer by asking lots of questions, spending a lot of hard hours figuring out how and why everything works. Everybody will learn and grow at their own pace... Most machinists are willing to teach what they know. By the time you’re 30, assuming you have the knack for figuring it all out, you could have hopped between a few shops, getting higher positions and learning more, making upwards of $30 per hour.”

Our tour through /r/machinists confirmed for us what we already knew: Machinists are a tight bunch, both online and off. When it comes to offering actionable career advice — whether it’s about skill sets, training, technologies or places to work — machinists seem to simply get an extra charge out of helping each other plan and enjoy their careers with the maximum job satisfaction and financial reward.