Careers and Employment
Machinists operate machine tools such as lathes, drill presses, and milling machines. They use their knowledge of metal and tools to make products that are precise sizes and shapes. For example, they make parts for industrial machines, aircraft, cars or other products. Some machinists make large quantities of one part, especially very precise parts, while others produce small batches or one-of-a-kind items.
Today, the machine tools used to produce metal parts are often computer numerically controlled (CNC), which means they contain computers that direct the machine's operations. These machines can perform many functions with only one setup. CNC machine tools enable machinists to produce more parts in less time, with a very high level of precision. The quality of the products these machines produce depends on the programs. It is becoming more common for skilled machinists to be expected to perform CNC programming. Machinists work alone or with CNC programmers to check new programs. A problem with the program could damage costly machinery and cutting tools. Therefore, companies often use computer simulations instead of trial runs to check programs. If a program change is made, companies re-test it before operating the machine.
Job opportunities are good for machinists and computer-controlled machine tool operators. Employers continue to report difficulty finding workers with the necessary skills and knowledge. Many jobs will arise from the need to replace experienced machinists who retire or leave the field. More growth will occur in plastics than in metalworking; this is because plastic is increasingly substituted for metal products. Employment opportunities are affected by the economy. If the demand for machined goods falls, machinists could be laid off or forced to work fewer hours.
Pay varies with the type of industry and the size and location of the manufacturing plant. Wages in entry-level positions for machinists and numerical control machine operators range from $11 to $16 per hour. The regional average starting salary for a machinist is $29,000. *
* Information obtained from the Illinois Career Information System