If you love working with your hands and have strong technical skills, you might be interested in becoming a machinist. It’s a solid career that you can enter into without having to spend four years pursuing a college degree.
But it can sometimes be challenging to figure out exactly what you need to do to become a machinist. That’s why we’ve put together the following guide. It covers everything that you need to know about the process so that you can plan accordingly. Keep reading to learn more.
What is a machinist, exactly?
A machinist is someone who specializes in the operation of heavy machinery. More specifically, they use tools like lathes, milling, machines, and grinders to produce precision metal parts.
Machinists can work with both manual and computer-controlled machines. They spend time interpreting blueprints, programming CNC machines, and manually operating various types of machinery. A machinist will also test the parts that they make to ensure their quality and perform basic machine maintenance tasks.
Why would I want to become one?
You may be interested in becoming a machinist for a few different reasons. The career doesn’t require a four-year college degree, which makes it a good option for people who don’t want to pursue a degree.
Additionally, machinists get to work with their hands and use their technical abilities to solve problems creatively. This type of work can be very rewarding to people with certain personalities.
Machinists also make a solid income. The national average salary for a machinist is $45,750. That’s pretty good for a job that doesn’t require a degree. You may even make more than that if you live in a state like Maryland, Delaware, or Massachusetts. Machinists in these areas make upwards of $57,000 annually on average.
What skills do I need to become a machinist?
There are both general and specific skills that a machinist needs to excel in their position. On a general level, a machinist needs to have strong technical skills. They need to be comfortable with computerized measuring machines and common metalworking practices. Additionally, a machinist needs to possess:
- Analytical skills
- Manual dexterity and accuracy
- Math skills and computer application experience (with CAD/CAM technology specifically)
- Physical stamina
Employers also look for a more industry-specific set of skills when hiring machinists. The vast majority want to hire candidates who have solid CNC machining skills. That means spending some time training with CNC machines will make you much more employable as a machinist.
Other industry-specific skills that employers value when hiring machinists include:
- Technical writing and comprehension
- Simulation, modeling, and analysis
- Additive manufacturing
- CNC programming
- Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
How to become a machinist (a step-by-step guide)
Preparing yourself for a new career can be a daunting process. That’s why we’ve put together the following step-by-step guide. Follow it to make sure that you have all of the qualifications that employers look for when hiring new machinists.
GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL
The first qualification that machinist employers will look for is a high school diploma. This tells employers that you have a baseline level of education that will allow you to hit the ground running while working for them.
If you didn’t graduate from high school, that’s okay. You can also satisfy this requirement by earning your GED. Most employers that hire machinists will be just as happy with this.
If you’re still in high school, then you can prepare yourself for a career as a machinist by focusing on certain classes. Try to complete any metalworking, drafting, and blueprint reading courses that are available to you.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to complete math classes like trigonometry and geometry. These will help you develop the math skills that you’ll need to be able to rely on as a professional machinist.
CONSIDER COMMUNITY COLLEGE OR A TECHNICAL SCHOOL
You can get hired as a machinist with just a high school degree. But you’ll be a more attractive candidate for employment if you take your education one step further. You can do that by finding a machinist or tool and die maker program at a local community college or technical school.
These programs usually only take two years to complete. Classes are often offered around normal working hours as well. So you could continue working at your job while completing a technical machinist degree.
You’ll want to focus on programs that include classes like:
- Blueprint reading
- Welding and cutting tool operation
- Applied mathematics
- Shop safety
Additionally, both community college and technical school are great places to learn how to operate and program CNC machines. Even earning a certification in CNC machine operation from a local institution could help you stand out from the competition.
TRAIN ON THE JOB OR BECOME AN APPRENTICE
School is a great place to study the theory behind the tasks you’ll complete as a professional machinist. But even the best program won’t be able to substitute for on-the-job training. This is when you’ll develop the real-world skills that your employers will expect you to have as a professional machinist.
There are a few different ways to get on-the-job training as a machinist. You might be able to get hired by a local employer in an entry-level machine operator role. In this type of position, you could start with basic tasks and gradually work your way up to more complicated ones as your skills improve.
But you may also want to look into pursuing a machinist apprenticeship. This is essentially just a more formal type of on-the-job training. They give you the chance to work alongside an experienced machinist who can teach you as you work.
Apprenticeships are often offered in cooperation with community colleges and vocational schools. These programs allow you to train as an apprentice during the day while completing your machinist degree at night and on the weekend. Becoming an apprentice allows you to continue earning money while you train to become a full-fledged machinist.
CONSIDER EARNING A CERTIFICATION
You don’t have to earn a certification to get hired as a machinist. But they can help you stand out from the competition in the same way that earning an advanced degree can. Certifications show employers that you have a baseline level of skill in a particular area.
There are lots of different certifications that can be beneficial for an aspiring machinist to pursue. You may want to look into options like:
- Machining Level 1 – Milling
- Machining Level 1 – CNC Milling: Operations
- Level 1 Machine Lubricant Analyst
- Certified Measurement and Verification Professional
- Certified Oil Monitoring Analyst 2
To figure out which certifications are right for you, consider which type of machinist work you’d like to specialize in. For example, if you want to get hired as a CNC machinist, earning certifications in this area can help you reach your goals.
PUT TOGETHER A STRONG APPLICATION PACKAGE
Once school and on-the-job training are complete, you’ll be ready to start applying for machinist jobs in your area. You need a strong application package to optimize this process and get as many offers as possible.
That starts with a great resume. Focus on creating a simple document that highlights your most important qualifications. Make sure to highlight your most impressive work experience, skills, and academic accomplishments. It’s a good idea to start with a summary statement that explains the value you can provide to the employer.
You also need to submit a compelling cover letter with each of your applications. Try to open with a strong statement that conveys how you will help the specific company that you’re applying to achieve its goals. You’ll want to do a bit of research about the company so that you can frame what you have to offer in terms that will appeal to its unique goals.
It might sound like a drag to have to write a new cover letter for each job that you apply to. But you can make the process easier on yourself by creating a good cover letter template. Then you can just tweak the template as needed to make a quick customized cover letter to go along with each application you submit.