The CNC Operator


What do you imagine when you picture a factory?

Some people think of a dirty, gritty place with giant smokestacks. But that idea is way out of date!

Today, the manufacturing industry is totally high-tech. Robotics and automation keep the factory floor running smoothly and efficiently. So if commanding your own army of robots is appealing to you (and of course it is!), consider a career in manufacturing.

One common piece of equipment in today’s factory is a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine. These machines provide super-precise cutting and shaping to make components (or parts of components) out of metal and plastic.

CNC machines can do the same tasks as hand-held tools like lathes or mills, but they are controlled by computers to do the same task again and again, exactly the same way.

As a CNC operator — a.k.a. a CNC machinist — you are the person who guides the CNC machine. You set it up to do the right tasks, load the raw material (that is, the metal or plastic) and make any adjustments. Then you monitor the machine to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

When the CNC machine cranks out the finished product, you inspect it. You make sure the piece looks right and is ready to be passed onto the next phase of the manufacturing process.

Often, multiple CNC machines are at work on a factory floor, perhaps performing different tasks. So as a CNC operator, you have several machines to oversee in your day-to-day job.



As a CNC machinist, you’ll probably find yourself working on the following tasks in a typical workday.

  • Load raw materials or partially finished parts into the CNC machine
  • Make sure the CNC machines operate correctly
  • Keep your work area neat and keep the machines clean and in good working condition
  • Inspect finished items or parts from the CNC machine for defects
  • Track inventory of supplies
  • Fill out paperwork on the parts that are completed
  • Check in with team members on related tasks and processes
  • Review safety procedures and be sure you and your crew follow them



Top professionals in the trade say you’ll need to be:

  • Detail-oriented. In the manufacturing process, a bunch of parts that were made separately — sometimes in different factories or even in different countries — all have to fit together perfectly. So that means you need to get your calculations and measurements exactly right.
  • As a CNC operator, you might encounter complicated diagrams and schematics that you have to follow. You’ll need to think your way through a complex problem to set up the machine correctly.
  • Strong and energetic. The work can involve doing the same thing again and again for long periods, often on your feet. You’ll have to do some heavy lifting, so you should be able to lift 75 pounds without hurting yourself. Long days with repetitive movements can be tiring, but you’ll need to stay alert and on point to avoid mistakes or injuries.



Here are a few pros & cons to consider as you decide whether CNC machinist jobs are right for you.


  • As a CNC operator, you do a little bit of a lot of things. In some ways you’re a designer, in other ways you’re a builder. You’re a technician and a mechanic. You also provide quality assurance. You get to take ownership of the whole CNC process.
  • Job satisfaction. If solving problems scratches an itch for you, you’ll enjoy this job and the mental challenge of making sure all your CNC machines are operating at their best. If you enjoy the reward of building and creating, you’ll love the feeling of holding in your hands an item that you helped produce.
  • Manufacturing will continue to become even more automated, and advances in technology will allow increasingly complex processes to be guided via CNC machine. As an expert in the field, you’ll always have an excellent chance of landing a good job.
  • Good pay. An average annual CNC operator salary is about $45,000. You can make more money if you specialize in valuable skills and add certifications.


  • The work can be physically and mentally exhausting, with long hours on your feet, doing repetitive tasks.
  • There are hazards to operating heavy machinery. It will be very important to follow all the rules and regulations that ensure your safety. Otherwise you or a crew member could get hurt.



What’s a typical CNC machinist salary?

The average annual salary for a CNC machine tool programmer in Georgia is $44,370 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016).

How do you become a CNC operator? 

If you’re currently in high school, you should make sure to take math classes like algebra and trigonometry. If shop classes and computer programming classes are available at your school, those are really helpful, too. Most important: You need to finish high school.

You can start training as a CNC operator at a trade or technical school. You might be able to complete a skills program in weeks or months, where you’ll learn some of the basics like how to read blueprints and how to do measurements.

Or, you could go for an associate’s degree, a two-year college program that offers broader training along with your trade-specific classes.

You can also up your game with certifications in the industry. These are voluntary credentials, but will make you a stronger candidate for jobs and could even boost your pay grade. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills and the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association offer relevant certifications. Some certifications will help you develop a niche expertise or specialty, which will also make you a better employee and a more competitive jobseeker.

This trade requires a lot of knowledge and expertise. It takes several years of practice and technical education to really excel as a CNC machinist. You will want to gain as much on-the-job experience and outside training as you can.



North Georgia Technical College

West Georgia Technical College

Lanier Technical College

Central Georgia Technical College

Savannah Technical College

Piedmont Technical College



If you’re a high school senior and want to learn how to be a CNC operator at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? Take me to that application NOW >



According to O*NET, the outlook for CNC machinists is very bright, with projected job growth of 14% or more from 2014 to 2024.



Take three minutes to watch and learn all about what it takes to succeed for one young guy in the industry.



Download this handy PDF for some facts on-the-go.

The CNC Operator_PDF


Making stuff has never been more fun. Skilled jobs are everywhere in manufacturing, from the machine shop to the factory floor! Modern manufacturing is incredibly high-tech. Nowadays, robots do most of the boring parts. So the people working on the factory floor need to be smart and creative, tech-savvy and super-skilled.