With the right aptitude and attitude, a CNC machinist’s job can be a lucrative and satisfying career.

CNC machinists are in high demand, especially those with programming skills and knowledge of advanced machinery. See the job responsibilities and education needed to enter the field and create a career path to success in metalworking.

According to research by Deloitte, an estimated 3.5 million positions in manufacturing will be available by 2025, with only 1.5 million expected to be filled.

What does that mean exactly? There is more demand for workers, i.e., jobs, than there is a supply of qualified workers.

And forget what you thought you knew about a career in manufacturing as being a dirty, unsafe and unhealthy environment to work in. Today’s environment for machining is clean, spacious and temperature-controlled.

What’s needed above everything else? The smarts to see the building process from beginning to end and the temperament to take ownership of an advanced and precise machine work.

With the right aptitude and attitude, CNC machining can be a lucrative and satisfying career. Inspired by this year’s MFG Day festivities across the country, here’s a detailed overview of what to expect from the job of a CNC machinist.

CNC Machinist Job Salary: How Much Can You Earn?

There is a spectrum of earnings potential depending on years of experience and locale. A CNC machinist in a strong manufacturing region with 15 or more years of experience can earn an above average hourly rate or salary.

Very experienced machinists with strong programming skills on advanced multi-axis machines can earn top dollar in the field—sometimes upward of $120,000. Machinists that make complex aerospace and advanced medical parts are some of the highest-paid workers in the field.

We take a look at four areas of the U.S. as an indication. We look at the Midwest, South and Western regions. First, here is CNC machinist information about the Midwest, specifically Minneapolis, according to Paysa:

“A CNC machinist in Minneapolis earns an average of $73,114, ranging from $59,378 at the 25th percentile to $84,193 at the 75th percentile, with top earners (the top 10%) earning more than $98,520. Compensation is derived from 168 profiles, including base salary, equity and bonus.”

Source: Paysa

Take a look at the West, specifically, Los Angeles, per Paysa:

“A CNC machinist in Los Angeles earns an average of $89,077, ranging from $71,439 at the 25th percentile to $103,138 at the 75th percentile, with top earners (the top 10%) earning more than $121,671. Compensation is derived from 141 profiles, including base salary, equity and bonus.”

Source: Paysa

And, in the South, what is the pay for CNC machinists? Let’s look at Fort Worth, Texas, per Paysa:

“A CNC machinist in Fort Worth, Texas, earns an average of $75,304, ranging from $60,407 at the 25th percentile to $87,182 at the 75th percentile, with top earners (the top 10%) earning more than $102,833. Compensation is derived from 131 profiles, including base salary, equity and bonus.

Source: Paysa

The CNC Machinist Job: Entry Level

Entry-level hourly pay in South Florida starts between $14 to $19 an hour, according to Finan and the students he works with at Atlantic Technical College. Since it’s such a skills-based job, CNC machinists can begin to see hourly wage raises between six months to one year on a job—and can continue to rise as experience and knowledge are proven.

Are you where you want to be and earning what you want to make? Read “The State of Salaries and Hourly Pay in Manufacturing.”

The CNC Machinist Job Description

A CNC machinist plans, sets up, programs and executes the making of parts—which are usually made of metal or plastic, on a computer-controlled machine. A CNC machinist is an essential role in today’s manufacturing industry as part-making volumes and production levels dictate specialized math, organization, analytical and teamwork skills.

The acronym “CNC” stands for computer numerical control. CNC machines are controlled by software that understands a program—and takes its command directions in cutting from the programming. CNC machines are very common in today’s metalworking shops and have a variety of sizes, features and functions, including 3-axis, 4-axis, 5-axis CNC, CNC lathe and other advanced systems. Many of these machines are multifunction precision systems and reduce the time it takes to make parts.

A CNC machinist needs to understand the programming languages that are used by the machine—such as G-code and M-code—and know how to manipulate multiple movements for cutting a raw metal material.

CNC machinists work in metalworking shops of small, midsize and large manufacturers in a range of industries including: automotive, aerospace and defense, medical, energy, such as oil, gas and power generation, and in the emerging advanced additive “3D printing” industry.

In large metalworking departments, a CNC machinist, sometimes referred to as a “CNC operator,” may be responsible for managing a “cell” of machines. Cells are machines that are grouped by the products or parts they produce in a lean manufacturing environment.

In smaller “job shops,” there may be only a few CNC machines. Job shops are designed to manufacture a wide variety of products with small lot sizes in order to achieve maximum flexibility. Products can have different operation sequences and operating times. CNC machinists manage the production of these parts in their cell.

Want to learn about generational differences and how to work with them? Read “Charting Manufacturing Career Pathways for Gen Z and Beyond.

Recommended Training, Education and Certifications

A high school diploma or GED is a minimum requirement, but there are other ways to gain an education in the field. There are many different paths someone can take to become a certified CNC machinist in the U.S.—and a degree is not necessarily required, but certified skills and training hours generally are required. Degrees can be preferred for some manufacturers—and can be more lucrative.

There are widely recognized credentials for CNC machinists. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers three levels of machining certification. The NIMS program assesses skills against national standards, from entry-level CNC programming and equipment operation to proficiency in CNC milling and turning.

Often, technical and community colleges will work closely with a local high school and offer a curriculum that teaches a basic level of manufacturing and can then involve an internship with a local manufacturer.

Companies tend to recruit from local vocational and technical schools since skills are in demand. They often have long-standing relationships with these schools. Some also participate in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs where there are often federal and state grants or tax incentives.

Learning that goes toward an associate degree or recognized machining certificate

In many states in the U.S., there is funding for high school students to obtain a machining certificate while they are still in high school at no cost—which can earn them credits toward fulfilling an associate degree from a local technical and vocational school or community college. Associate degree programs take two years.

In some states, such as Texas, you can earn a two-year associate degree while finishing your last two years of high school.

As an example, Atlantic Technical College in South Florida has a machinist certificate program that can be earned in as little as 14 months. Finan also point out that some manufacturing companies offer health and vacation benefits, plus some offer college reimbursement which can allow CNC machinists to start their careers without heavy debts.

CNC Machinist Apprentice Programs

Also known as “earn and learn” programs, “pre-apprenticeship” programs are affiliated with registered apprenticeships that pair local businesses with students who are paid—and are working toward gaining an apprenticeship status after proving certain skill sets.

“A pre-apprenticeship program is an exploratory period for a manufacturer. There is not a commitment by the employer to hire and functions essentially as an added value to an internship program,” says Chris Cagle, regional affairs manager for the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, in the article “This MFG Day: Shrink the Skills Gap, Hire Apprentices.”

Typical requirements for a two-to-four-year machinist apprenticeship program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor include:

  • 2,000 hours of on-the-job learning per year in job processes as laid out in the apprenticeship standards established by the employer
  • 144 hours of education or related training instruction (RTI) per year

“The frameworks for apprenticeships provide occupational-specific curriculum guidelines and on-the-job performance standards that demonstrate job competency in your workplace,” says John Hindman, director of learning and performance improvement at Tooling U-SME, in a Better MRO webinar.

Apprenticeships can also help retain workers who want known career paths and the ability to earn more take-home pay.

“As you learn and meet key milestones of the program, wage increases are in place that align with skill development,” Hindman says. In addition to more pay, employees who successfully complete a registered apprenticeship program receive a nationally recognized credential.

Want to learn more about apprenticeships? See: “How Machinist Apprenticeship Programs Can Help the Skills Gap


MSC has partnered with Tooling U-SME, a leader in manufacturing for nearly 90 years, to offer online training packages that support core manufacturing roles by helping develop and maintain the necessary skills to keep up with new innovations and advanced manufacturing. 

Learn More and Start Your FREE Trial Today


The following image is an illustration of a career path in a CNC machinist’s wheelhouse. These salary figures are based on information from the California Community Colleges system.


Source: California Community Colleges

 Do you need a technical question answered? Ask the MSC Metalworking Tech Team in the forum.

Recommended Skills for Becoming a CNC Machinist

“Learning to program on a CNC machine, putting it into the machine and setting it up—those are essential skills,” says Kevin Finan, a machining instructor at Atlantic Technical College in Broward County, Florida, who has over 25 years of experience working in manufacturing as a machinist. “The operation, like all trades, is the cool part. But that’s actually maybe only 5 to 10 percent of the work—it’s the setup and the programming and the prep work that is the cool part.”

Finan points out the need for analytical and systematic thinking—as well as a strong work ethic and an ability to work well with others as a team. Finan is keen on pointing out how today’s CNC machining is not push-button work. Those days are gone.

Here’s a breakdown of skills:

Mechanical and technical aptitude

CNC machines are controlled by computers, and operators must understand how CAD/CAM technology works.

CAD means computer-aided design. CAM means computer-aided manufacturing. It is the software that translates commands into automated cutting inside the machine or other workpiece and tooling actions.

CNC machinists read schematics, or what Finan calls “technical blueprints,” and follow complex instructions created by engineers to build parts to precise specifications.

Math and critical numbers-crunching

They work with numbers and measurements all the time, including sometimes using metrology equipment such as micrometers, calipers and coordinate measurement machines.

Problem solving

Machines will encounter errors in production. CNC machinists must be able to understand how their machines operate, monitor production and resolve problems for peak performance and output.

If a crash occurs within a machine, the machinist needs to know how to find the root issue and get the machine back in production when possible.

Attention to details

Small errors in measurement can adversely affect production output. Because precision is so important, CNC machinists must have a keen eye for detail.

“The job can be stressful in that you could be building an expensive part, say a $5,000 or $6,000 one—so you have to be very systematic in your thinking. It’s not a job for impulsive people,” says Finan.


They need to ask questions, listen and follow directions, and explain situations with clarity to supervisors, subordinates and peers.


As part of an entire industrial team, they need to work effectively in groups.


CNC equipment is big and heavy, and it can be dangerous. CNC operators have to know the safety procedures and standards that are designed to keep the workplace free of injuries and accidents.

The CNC Machinist Job: Who You Work With

CNC machinists work with a range of different disciplines including part and process engineers, plant supervisors, quality control engineers and vendors that make the tools, supplies and raw materials used on the shop floor. They may also work closely with peers that specialize in lean manufacturing and operations.

“After 25 years of experience in the trenches of machining, in my experience, the ability to work with people is really the one to remember in any company. It’s all about teamwork,” says Finan.  “You have to be able to get on with people and work with others, so communication is incredibly important. Work ethic is also incredibly important.”

The CNC Machinist Job: On the Shop Floor

Today’s shop floors are clean, air-conditioned and designed for maximum efficiency of movements. Time is money, so a lot of care and strategic thinking goes into the work and physical layout on a shop floor—and to keeping the floor as safe and free from clutter as possible.

“It’s not your grandfather’s shop floor anymore,” says Finan. “Good companies today are giving workers an allowance to buy steel-toed shoes and prescription safety glasses. And historically, those shoes used to be a little heavy and clumsy. But nowadays, they’re really, really comfortable.”

Sometimes the shop floor is designed to minimize the movements of a CNC machinist to maximize their focus on the machine cell productivity. Often the shop floor will have protective matting that aids in avoiding slips, trips and falls—but can also add a level of comfort for the worker. Because, like it or not, there is a fair amount of standing on your feet in this role.


CNC machinists are in high demand, especially those with programming skills and knowledge of advanced machinery.

Those entering the field should be capable of analytical and systematic thinking, have a strong work ethic, and an ability to work well with others as a team. 

Take our poll to see how you compare with others considering this career.

Which of the recommended skills for this role are your strengths?

How has the shop floor evolved in your career in manufacturing? And if you’re new to manufacturing, what do you expect it to be like? Talk about it in the forum.

Talk to Us!

After 6 years of only manual machining (lathes, drill presses, surface grinders, etc.) training, which was very repetitive, did I have the opportunity to finally start learning CNC. And after a couple years of that, I am forever great full to my old employer for those first years, because without that time in the fundamentals, it would be much harder without. I am convinced that any future CNC student should learn in that related and beneficial way. However, I have now expanded into WEDM machines these past 2 years, and I am wondering if were ever going to see any articles in that field? Great articles all around, and i'll continue to be reading more in the future.


Thanks for the feedback Dan. We've shared some info on EDM.
Here is our most recent article:

Would others like more info on EDM? Share in comments below.


I want to get free roebucks now.



Being a manual machinist for 35 yrs.wa t to get better..ran monster size work all my life.


Trying to find a CNC apprentice program im my area.  In Grand Rapids,  MI.


The Department of Labor recognizes registered apprenticeship programs. You can search for one in your area here.


Hey Desiree, I work at a shop North of you called Reed City Group. In Reed City MI. We have a great internal apprenticeship prg. We provide all the tools you need to get started. If you are interested feel free to reach out


hai sir i  will work to cnc operate & present shift supervisor and i qualification ITI COE

I wok in  job settings offsets programing in turning centre funuc & siemens i will work to hard and sallery is poor  



using gi bill at linciln tech cant wait hope thats it is a good place to start and they have job placement

  1. I worked three years as a machinist long time ago but I would like to get back in to it, I see that it has evolved into a very interesting field, and more than just that, now that's a very interesting technical proffesion.

Certified by the state of texas trained and lone star north Harris  community college trained in programming  tools for different types of cuts able to crunch on numbers also understand blueprints and familiar with g and m codes also very clean and safe worker always ready to be a team player ready to work 




Hi I'm a CNC machine Operator I want to learn CNC basic  programming skills in cape Town area please assist.

Thank you in advance. 


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Good morning, 

I am an instructor for a Precision Machining Program in South Texas and my students were asking if MSC offers scholarships for students pursuing an Associates Degree in machining. By the way, there is plenty of work available across our country but hirings have slowed down a little possibly due to the pandemic but as we begin to rise from this situation, I feel that our manufacturing capacities will also rise in order to meet the demands our country needs. 

Thank you for putting this information up for fellow technicians to read and follow the trends of manufacturing. 

Rick Limas


We are a CNC shop near San Francisco and looking to add machinists. Anyone qualified people please contact me.

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