Instead of fading away, trade jobs are getting a second wind with
new technology. High-tech tools are common, and machinists need the right
skills to operate them. Those with the right skills are ready for immediate
In general, machinists produce precision metal parts. They use machine
tools such as lathes, drill presses and milling machines. They must carefully
plan and prepare each operation.
Some machinists, called production machinists, may produce large amounts
of a single part. Others may do maintenance work like repairing or making
new parts for existing machinery.
Most machinists work in small machining shops or in manufacturing firms
that produce durable goods. These goods include metalworking and industrial
machinery, aircraft or motor vehicles. Maintenance machinists work in most
industries that use production machinery. That's according to the Occupational
Outlook Handbook (OOH).
"The job outlook for certified machinists is very good for the next few
years," says Scott Jackson. He is president of a council of machinists.
"At present, there is a shortage of qualified employees. This is due very
much to the fast pace of change in the field as well as a reluctance by employers
to take on apprentices," he says.
Computers play a big part in new machining technology. "Most of the new
machine tools are CNC [computer numerically controlled]. A program is written
for the machine, the machine is set up in the correct manner, and the computer
actually runs the machine," says Jackson.
The introduction of these CNC machine tools has changed the nature of the
work of machinists, according to the OOH. Machinists need to have the right
skills and knowledge.
"It [a machinist's job] has changed significantly with the rise of technology,"
says Dave Robocker. He's the director of the manufacturing program at Shoreline
"Now a machinist has to be computer-literate, has to understand basic electronics,
has to understand basic physics. It's a jack of all trades," he adds.
"I think the outlook for machinists and other trade professionals is really
good. In the Seattle area, it's above average, and in other parts of the U.S.,
it's well above average."
Alan Lynam is a mechanical engineering technology instructor at Delaware
Technical and Community College. "The employment outlook is very good in the
Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas," he says.
"We actually have job postings right now for machinist openings in the
area and we really can't fill them...we need more entry-level students to
come into our program."
These employment growth predictions are consistent with national reports.
According to the OOH, job opportunities will continue to be good for machinists.
Employers continue to report hardships in finding workers with the necessary
skills to fill machining openings. Many job openings come from the need to
replace experienced machinists who leave the occupation or retire.
Education is a key factor in finding the best jobs. "A lot of people learn
on the job. However, I can't speak enough for a good combination of academic
and hands-on training," says Robocker.
And although a degree or certificate isn't absolutely necessary, it benefits
the holder a great deal. "In this case, it's going to get their foot in the
door very quickly because they've invested a lot of time in their education,"
Future machinists have several educational options.
In the U.S., formal training varies from apprenticeship programs to postsecondary
programs such as one-year certificates and associate degrees. You will study
math, physics, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing and shop practices. That's
according to the OOH.
As machine shops have increased their use of computer-controlled equipment,
training in the operation and programming of CNC machine tools has become
essential, says the OOH.
Many training facilities and colleges are now incorporating national skills
standards developed by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS).
NIMS credentials are then granted to the successful trainees. This designation
can lead to advancement or confirmation of skills during a job search, according
to the OOH.
Delaware Technical and Community College offers a certificate. According
to Lynam, this program is a "very hands-on, intensive" 49 college credit hours
with shops and labs.
It's never too early to begin preparing for a job as a machinist. High
school may be the place to start. "I suggest highly that they take as much
math as they can, applied physics, and science classes," says Robocker. He
believes that there is a misconception that machinist programs are for high
"I want the cream of the crop," says Robocker. He can't expect less, as
the job of the machinist requires highly trained workers.
Informing young people of careers in the skilled trades is the goal of
Larry Tasker of Precision Machined Products Association. He believes that
this is necessary in order to fill the future demand for screw machine operators,
a type of manufacturing equipment.
"The outlook for screw machine operators, both journeyperson and apprentice,
is extremely good...approximately 500,000 new or replaced skilled tradespersons
will be needed in the next five years," he says.
"We are trying to reach young people in the fifth and sixth grades, and
their parents, to promote careers in the skilled trades."
According to Tasker, the following steps are necessary in achieving a successful
career in the skilled trades.
Machinists held about 397,000 jobs in 2006, says the Occupational Employment
The pay varies. The average pay for a machinist in 2006 was $16.71 per
hour, according to the OES. However, Robocker says that highly skilled machinists
today can make between $50,000 and $80,000 a year.
Skilled trade jobs will continue to be strong. Machinists are in demand,
offering skilled workers a secure job making good money.
American MachinistFull of articles on the machinist's trade
Delaware Technical and Community CollegeGet details on its machinist training program
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace WorkersCovers topics of interest to North American machinists