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Top 3 Skills Machine Operators Need to Succeed

In a manufacturing plant, a woman wearing a white hardhat, orange safety vest, grey work shirt and dark blue pants. She stands at the end of an industrial stitching machine and is pressing a button on the interface. Search the latest machine operator jobs with Aerotek.
We’ve talked about the trades on our blog several times — carpenters, electricians, diesel mechanics, and so on. We’ve also discussed what machine operators do, but now we’ll take a focused look at the skills they need to succeed. 


What do machine operators do?

The job title says it all. Machine operators are qualified individuals who operate heavy machinery. They can be in factories, construction projects, for the military, and so on. Almost like how a bus or motorcycle requires a different license than your usual driver’s license, heavy machines like a forklift, cranes, bulldozers, and so on will require special training to operate. But in a nutshell, machine operators are the ones who command those big machines. Usually, they’re part of a team working on a common project, hence why they’re usually in construction or factories.

Which industries do machine operators work in?

Machine operators mainly work in construction, distribution and manufacturing, but really in any industry or situation that requires the use of heavy machinery. Construction and manufacturing projects often span into other industries, so machinists can find work in agriculture, aviation, energy, and logistics sectors, just to name a few. Some machinery, like forklifts, are ubiquitous in nearly every industry, but some might be more exclusive to certain industries like hydraulic lifts or injection molds. Something worth mentioning is that machine operators may not only be responsible for operating the equipment. They might also be responsible for repairing, maintaining, inspecting, or training others to use them, depending on their role and level of expertise. 

What are the most common machines that operators manage?

There are multiple types of machines that machinists might use depending on their industry.  Still, there are some that can be considered the “bread and butter” and are often the first machines that operators are trained on before moving to more specialized equipped. Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, just the more common ones you can expect.

1. CNC Machine

A computer numerical control (CNC) machine is one of the most widely used pieces of equipment in manufacturing. By automating the precise movement of various machine tools through preprogrammed software, this machine can mass produce various products.

2. Press Brake Machine

The press brake machine is just as common as the CNC, but they specialize in bending and shaping sheet metal to the operator’s satisfaction. This machine allows for more autonomy compared to a CNC and can be more efficient in certain practices. 

3. Injection Mold Machine

While CNC and press brake machines are associated with metal, injection mold machines typically manipulate plastics. They can produce tiny electrical parts or something as big as a car door panel. 

What are three skills machine operators must have?

We’ve been dropping some hints along the way, but here we’ll properly explain some of the skills you’ll need to have in order to be a good machine operator. Often, you’ll learn these skills as part of your on-the-job training.

1. Teamwork Skills

Collaboration is a crucial soft skill for many machinist jobs. Machine operators often work on teams and must coordinate with each other or follow directions. Good communication and collaboration skills are key here, and they’ll come with time working with your colleagues. 

2. Attention to Detail

Machine operators are responsible not only for the final manufactured product, but they also may perform some preventative maintenance. Having sharp ears and eyes helps operators keep the production going. It also ensures a quality final product and shows pride in their work. 

3. Continuing to Learn

There are many general and special pieces of equipment in all sorts of fields. Continuing to learn and train on more and more pieces of equipment not only furthers your knowledge base, but also opens many more employment opportunities. You can move laterally or vertically within a field, and take on instructor or supervisor roles with enough experience. 

Machine operators are a very respected and crucial profession in our workforce, but the position isn’t talked about very much. In short, they’re the professionals that operate all the heavy equipment needed in a field and are needed in virtually every industry. There are multiple machines that they operate, but all boil down to a few important skills. 

When you’re ready to explore the latest machine operator jobs near you, search our job board.