What Does a Machine Operator Do?

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Finding the right career will help you get more enjoyment out of your life. But doing so can be tough. You need to zero in on job paths that meet your educational background, natural skillset, and employment preferences. Finding all of these things in a single career is rare.

But one job opportunity that may fit the bill is becoming a machine operator. Machine operators make good money, work in decent comfort, and don’t have to have a four-year college degree. If you’re naturally mechanically-inclined anyway, then becoming a machine operator could be the answer to your job search.

Before committing to this path, you’ll want to do some research on everything that traveling it will entail. That’s where we come in. Keep reading to learn everything that you need to know about what a machine operator does.

Machine operator job description

Machine operators are also sometimes called machinists. They’re skilled workers who are responsible for the operation of a variety of machines. Some of the most common machines that these employees work with include:

  • Lathes
  • Milling machines
  • Grinders
  • CNC machines

Some of these machines are computer-operated and others are operated manually by the machine operator. With computer-operated models, the machinist needs to program the system with a set of instructions.

The specific daily tasks of a machine operator will vary based on the exact nature of their role. For example, many machinists work on creating new parts for manufacturing machines. They might use all of the machines listed above to do this.

Other machinists focus more on the setup and installation of various types of machines. It’s their responsibility to ensure that the machines they work with function as efficiently and effectively as possible.

A machine operator may also complete tasks like:

  • Loading materials
  • Operating machinery
  • Troubleshooting and repairing machines
  • Performing quality checks
  • Performing routine maintenance on machines

Machine operator salary

Before starting down any career path, it’s important to determine what your salary potential in the role looks like. According to nearly 10,000 real salaries collected by Glassdoor, the average base pay rate for a machine operator is $31,125 per year. That’s nearly $600 per week and close to $15 per hour.

But it’s worth noting that companies like Glassdoor make a distinction between salaries for machinists, CNC machinists, and machine operators. Both machinists and CNC machinists make an average of approximately $41,000 annually. So your earnings potential could be much higher than $31,125 annually depending on your job title.

There are, of course, several factors that will influence your salary as a machine operator. Most of them should be familiar to you already. The more experience and training you have, the more you generally make. Additionally, machinists who work in high-cost-of-living areas tend to make more than those who live in lower-cost-of-living areas.

Additionally, machine operators who specialize in a certain role often make more than those who don’t. For example, a mining machine operator will usually earn more than a machinist who works in the manufacturing industry. That’s because the work of a mining machine operator is a bit more demanding.

Machine operator education

You should only need a high school diploma or an equivalent to become an entry-level machine operator. But the increasing automation in manufacturing is eliminating many of these low-skill positions from the job marketplace. Pursuing an advanced education is a great way to future-proof your machine operator career.

If you want to do that, then there are a few different ways to go about it. One option is to pursue an associate’s degree in machine operation at a local community college or trade school. Some of the most common courses offered in these programs include:

  • Blueprint reading
  • Basic CNC coding
  • CNC system parts
  • Measurements for machine shops
  • Machiner operators levels 1 & 2

After the completion of one of these programs, you’ll be well-equipped to find a higher-paying machine operator job than what you would qualify for without an education.

You might also pursue an apprenticeship. These provide the chance to learn alongside an experienced machine operator. They’ll show you the ropes with hands-on lessons that will prepare you to enter the workforce with a high degree of skill once the apprenticeship is complete.

Machine operator certifications

Another way to prepare yourself for a career as a machine operator is by pursuing certifications. These are great ways to prove your skillset to the employers who might hire you. They typically don’t take a long time to complete and will be a real asset during your job search.

Some of the most commonly sought-after machine operator certifications include:


Earning this certification will demonstrate your mastery of front-line manufacturing production. To earn it, you need to complete a series of five 90-minute assessments. The certification is a great one to pursue if you’d like to work in the manufacturing industry.


This certification is meant for those who wish to demonstrate their knowledge of computer-aided design systems. It also covers trendy subjects like computer-controlled machine programming, precision measurement, and maintenance through diagnostic tools.


An MSI Manufacturing Specialist is someone who possesses advanced knowledge of manufacturing technology. The certification specifically measures an individual’s spatial reasoning, mathematics, and measurement skills as they related to machine operation.

Machine operator experience

Getting hired as a machine operator will be easier if you have relevant work experience. Employers want to see that you’ve succeeded in a similar position in the past. That will tell them that you’re likely to succeed again in the future. But what does machine operator experience look like?

You don’t have to have worked as a machine operator in the past to have relevant experience. Instead, as you put together your job applications, focus on highlighting the skills that you gained in previous roles that will also be required of you as a machine operator.

For example, machine operators need to manage their time effectively and pay close attention to detail. Your goal should be to show employers that you’ve developed these skills by talking about how you did so on your resume.

Of course, it will be even more advantageous to have had previous experience in a similar role. If you can show that you’ve worked with machines before and know how to use and maintain them, then you’ll be well on your way to finding a job as a machine operator.

Machine operator growth potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall growth rate for machine operator employment is going to be 2% from 2019 to 2029. That’s slightly lower than the average rate of growth, which is about 3%.

But if we get a bit more granular, you’ll find that there are plenty of opportunities for you to grow as a machine operator. Most workers begin working in a general machinist role. But as time goes on, you’ll be tasked to take on an increasing amount of responsibility if you do your job well. Eventually, you might become a machinist supervisor or manager.

It’s also common for entry-level machine operators to transition into jobs that require less machine operation and more machine maintenance. For example, a machine operator in the manufacturing industry might move away from the line and towards troubleshooting machines that are having problems. They might also be asked to work on machine setup as they gain experience.

As time goes on, a machine operator may eventually have the opportunity to train others. They might do so as a supervisor or manager at their facility. But they could also transition into education. For example, technical schools are always looking for highly-qualified machinists to help guide aspiring machine operators through their associate degree programs.

The more experience that you have as a machine operator, the more of these advancement opportunities that will become available to you. The exact nature of your growth outlook will also depend partially on the type of machine operator job that you get hired for.

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