How Much Do Machine Operators Make?

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There are lots of exciting job opportunities to consider in the industrial sector. One that you might be interested in is the job of a machine operator. But before you commit to becoming a machine operator, you need to do your research.

More specifically, you need to know exactly how much you can make as a machine operator before you can decide whether the job is right for you. That’s why we’ve put together the following article. It offers an in-depth look at the earning potential of a machine operator. Keep reading to learn more.

Woman drives forklift and transports construction material and her coworker controls it from outside.

What factors can influence how much a machine operator earns?

Before diving into some numbers, it’s important to point out that there is a range of potential salary outcomes for a machine operator. There are tons of different factors that can impact how much you make in this position, but here are some of the most common ones.

EXPERIENCE

On average, experience tends to increase your pay. The more of it you have, the more you can earn (up to a point). That’s true of most professions in the United States and it’s true for machine operators as well.

That means you shouldn’t expect to begin earning a 90th percentile salary for a machine operator right away. But that is a goal that you can work towards as time passes and your expertise grows.

LOCATION

Your location can also have a big impact on how much you make as a machine operator. Salaries tend to peak in the areas where the need for machine operators is greatest and the cost of living is highest.

TRAINING

Employers tend to prefer hiring candidates that have both experience and formal academic or professional training. You’ll be able to qualify for more selective positions, which tend to pay more if you’ve gone through a specialized training process.

That might involve completing a technical certificate at a local trade school. Or it could involve completing an apprenticeship in machine operation through a local union or non-union organization.

AREA OF SPECIALIZATION

Your earning potential can also be influenced by the type of machine operation that you decide to specialize in. For example, you could work in the manufacturing industry, the automotive industry, or even the construction industry.

There will be some differences in the amount that you earn in each of these sectors. For example, a construction equipment operator can make $49,100 per year on average. But a standard material moving machine operator makes just $37,790 per year on average.

How much do machine operators make per hour?

The exact amount that you’ll make per hour as a machine operator can vary some based on the factors described above. Generally, a machine operator will make between $13.65 and $14.74 per hour.

But, once again, there is some room to improve that salary by choosing a particular machine operation specialization. For example, metal and plastic machine workers make an average of $18.40 per hour.

What’s the average yearly salary for a machine operator?

The average salary for a machine operator varies a bit from tracking site to tracking site. For example, Zippia puts the number at just $28,400. But Glassdoor says that machine operators make $34,132 per year and Salary.com says they make $35,215 per year.

From this information, we can assume that the average yearly salary for a machine operator is somewhere in the low-to-mid $30,000 range. Keep in mind, this is the overall average yearly salary for the entire industry.

If this pay rate isn’t enough for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t become a machine operator. You may just want to look into choosing a specialty that pays you more. Or you could try to work in an area where machine operators get paid more than average.

For example, construction equipment operators make an average of $60,390 per year in Wyoming. As you figure out which type of machine operation work is best for you, you may want to play around with the average earnings data based on location and specialization to figure out how you can maximize your salary.

Does my salary depend on the type of work I do?

Your salary as a machine operator can depend quite a bit on the type of work that you do. This has been touched upon in earlier sections, but let’s sum it up with another example.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), agricultural equipment operators make an average of $34,070 per year. Construction equipment operators, on the other hand, earn an average of $49,100 per year.

Where are machine operators paid the highest?

Machine operators can sometimes nearly double their salary just by working in the right state. With that in mind, here are the ten states that pay machine operators the best:

  • Wyoming
  • Kentucky
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan
  • Washington
  • Arkansas
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Wisconsin Louisiana

If you want to maximize your earnings potential, then you may want to consider looking for a job in one of these areas. Just consider the following example:

An agricultural machine operator in North Dakota makes an average of $45,400 per year. But a worker with similar qualifications and a similar job in New Mexico will only make an average of $28,690 per year.

Sometimes, these differences stem from higher costs of living, as workers tend to get paid more if it costs more to live in a certain area. But that’s not always the reason why a machine operator’s salary will fluctuate from one state to another. 

It’s sometimes possible to have much more earning power by simply taking a job in another state. So if you’re geographically flexible, you should take advantage of that fact to maximize your earning potential as a machine operator.

Is there a difference between machine operator salaries in cities and rural areas?

You can make the most as a machine operator if you live in a city. But you aren’t guaranteed to earn more than a rural machine operator just because you live in one. Rather, you can earn a good living in both cities and rural areas as a machine operator.

For example, the highest-paying metropolitan area for a machine operator is the New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA area. Construction machine operators here make an average salary of $96,440, according to the BLS.

If you visit the BLS’ state-based salary data for construction machine operators, you’ll see that there are at least another 9 metropolitan areas where these workers make more than $85,000 per year on average. That’s significantly higher than the national average pay for machine operators.

Machine operators in rural areas have a lower top-end potential than their city-dwelling counterparts. But they can still do quite well for themselves. For example, construction operators in the Eastern Wyoming nonmetropolitan area make $64,570 on average. That is still about double the national average.

It’s worth mentioning that all of the highest-paying metropolitan areas for machine operators are in areas with very high costs of living. So although the top-end for workers in these areas is much higher, their overall purchasing power may not be that much greater than it is for machine operators living in rural areas, which tend to have lower costs of living.

How much do machine operator apprenticeships pay?

Some aspiring machine operators decide to complete apprenticeships before seeking out long-term jobs in the industry. Doing this can be a good way to increase your earnings potential down the line, as employers often prefer hiring candidates with formal training.

If you decide to go this route, you’ll want to know how much an apprenticeship pays. According to Salary.com, the average salary for an apprentice operator is $28,369.

But you may be able to make more than that if you complete an apprenticeship in a specialized field of machine operation. For example, heavy equipment operator apprentices earn an average of $41,737 per year, which comes out to over $20 an hour.

This means that it’s certainly possible to support yourself while training to become a specialized machine operator.

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