September 23, 2021

What is a CNC Machine Operator? Job Specs + How Much They Make

A CNC machine operator is a person who loads material and operates parts of the machine. An operator is also a button pusher. He follows instructions to create a final product that meets the required specifications. Most beginners start at this point and work their way up in the industry.

Man standing next to a cnc cutter

There are characteristics one should have to qualify for the post.  These include attention to detail, the ability to perform mathematical calculations, and some understanding of computer programming. A version of CAD and CAM software is also beneficial. Most operators also have or develop mechanical aptitude. They are required to follow safety rules and regulations, problem-solving, and multi-tasking. 

Roles of a CNC Operator

The role of a CNC operator is to set up and operate CNC machines and equipment. The operator unloads raw materials, prepares a test run, another role, and ensures that a well-functioning machine is working. 

An operator’s day-to-day responsibilities differ depending on the parts they specialize in. The role requires inspecting and measuring finished products, and they have to meet requirements. The following job description works for different types of industries.

Some users confuse CNC Operators and CNC Machinists, but they are different. The role of a CNC machinist is more advanced than that of an operator. 

How much do CNC machine operators make?

CNC machine operators’ salaries vary depending on the country and company they work for. An average operator receives annual compensation of $66,300 or $34 per hour. The entry-level positions start at $58,388 per year, and experienced workers earn $80,389 per year. That is not bad, and considering that it only takes your skill to start the job, that is impressive.

CNC Machining

CNC machining pays well and has excellent long-term employment prospects. The work is interesting, and you do not need a college degree to get started. That easy takes passion and willingness. The career combines manufacturing and technology. The idea of doing highly skilled work on complex machines makes it interesting. Work with your hands and different materials and the satisfaction of creating something tangible.


  • Use your critical thinking skills to solve complex problems.
  • Detail-oriented and precise.
  • Appreciate things that are intricately designed.
  • Like the closure that comes with the satisfaction of enjoying seeing a project through from start to end.
  • You should be fascinated as a process person since you perform as one.  You value and are energized by continuous improvement.
  • Loving turning ideas into reality and learning new things should always be a hobby.
  • It requires mental and physical stamina since you are required to use it.
  • Challenges should be opportunities that help you grow.
  • Learning helps you advance in your career.
  • You will be respected and rewarded for your accomplishments and skills.

If the above strengths and characteristics describe you, you might as well consider CNC machine operating as a professional. That does not mean it has to substitute your current or dream profession, but you can take it up as a hobby or side hustle. Be ready to make more, which might lead to taking the career seriously. 


  • Set up and manage CNC machines. That ensures the machine performs multiple jobs, such as drilling, grinding, and milling.
  • You have to translate engineering drawings and requirements into dimensions for production.
  • The CNC machine has to operate in line with the company’s guidelines, and going off-route misses the whole point of the machine.
  • Oversee the machines while they execute the tasks and make the necessary changes to produce improved results.
  • Check machinery daily to guarantee functionality. These include blades and Lubricate when necessary. That is on every functional part. 
  • Take note of all machine actions by completing production and quality logs.
  • Give timelines to clients. Work with deadlines. 
  • You are the one who communicates logistics issues that arise in creating a part.
  • Make sure what the machine produces is in sync with the client’s expectations. 
  • Conduct regular CNC machine assessments.


  • High school diploma or equivalent qualification required.
  • A certificate or diploma in engineering is not a must but an added advantage.
  • Some experience as a CNC machine operator is needed when you are applying to well-established companies. 
  • Ability to translate technical documents and engineering drawings.
  • You should be able to stay loyal to detail.
  • Carry a goal-driven attitude.
  • Strong comprehension and analytical abilities are a must. Not every stage of instruction is simple. 
  • Good computer and mathematical skills.

Is CNC hard to learn?

I would say it depends on how you look at it (attitude). Of course, dealing with machines cannot be a walk in the park, but if you pay attention to the instructions and find your ways, it becomes less straining. 

Learning about machines and mathematics is challenging, but you will pull through with hard work and determination. The CNC machining training program ensures that you are prepared enough to tackle the job. 

Positive results will yield the above qualifications and expectations. The program works in stages. There is a standard program that teaches you the basics of CNC machine operation.  It is easy, and you quickly grasp the concepts. It helps you understand basic math. The intermediate programming skills take a year, and the advanced one takes years.  The program helps you with the aspects below.  

  • Apply scientific methods and problem analysis.
  • A better understanding of manufacturing mathematics
  • Stay active and relevant in the CNC operations for the long-term
  • Collaborate with others
  • Enhance your creative side
  • Acquisition of management skills
  • Boost confidence in a professional setup.
  • Discipline.
  • Work under pressure with minimum to no supervision. 
  • Understand the vision and goal of the company.
  • Practice critical thinking skills.


  • Good communication skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Mechanical and technical systems
  • Team building skills. 
  • Accuracy.
  • Time management. Assertiveness. 
  • Adaptability.
  • Strong business experience. 

Know the above, and you are good to go. No guesswork will make you succeed. Remember to start with simple machinery and graduate with more advanced machinery. That needs experience and skill. Know how to operate the machine. A reputable institution will give you better knowledge on the job. 

David D. Hughes

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