Careers

Learn About Being a Machine Operator

What does a machine operator do?

Machine operators are laborers who use heavy machinery to complete manufacturing, disassembling and other tasks. These professionals—also referred to as machinists—often specialize in one specific machine or type of machinery, and jobs are often listed based on the types of machinery and equipment located on the job site. Some positions may include:

  • Milling and planing machine operators
  • Injection mold machine operators
  • Drilling and boring machine operators
  • Rolling machine operators
  • Packing machine operators
  • Moving machine operators
  • Construction machine operators 

Machine operators’ responsibilities may depend on the type of machinery they use, but common job responsibilities include:

  • Observing the machine as it produces objects and inspecting these objects upon completion

  • Inspecting the parts of the machine and using micrometers and rulers to make sure the machine meets all design parameters of the blueprints 

  • Making minor repairs to machinery, such as sharpening tools and contacting an industrial mechanic as needed for large repairs

  • Following all safety rules and regulations in place at the company

  • Communicating with team members to ensure a quick and efficient production line with high-quality products across all machines

  • Performing pre-operation activities on one or more pieces of equipment to ensure appropriate startup and operation

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Average salary

Machine operators are typically employed full time. Since machinery is often used for extended periods, machine operators may work evenings, overnight or on weekends. 

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $13.30 per hour
  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $23.25 per hour

Machine operator requirements

Machine operators need a specific skill set to safely and efficiently handle the machines in busy manufacturing environments.

Education

Machine operators need a minimum of a high school diploma or GED certificate. While this level of education is sufficient for many jobs in this field, you can also elect to continue your education with an associate’s degree in machining or a machine operator technical certificate program.

Training

On-the-job training is typically provided for new machine operators in any environment, as it’s important for new hires to understand the specifics of the distinct production line in each plant.

Apprenticeships are often available as well. A first-time machine operator may complete a three or four-year apprenticeship program that can help prepare them for future opportunities in this field. An apprenticeship program will usually include 300 to 600 hours of classroom training and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of paid on-the-job training.

Certifications

The Manufacturing Institute maintains a Skills Certification System endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers, which provides skills certification programs. Some certifications you may want to consider include:

  • Manufacturing Skill Standards Council Certified Production Technician: This certification demonstrates basic mastery of front-line manufacturing production. The certification test includes five 90-minute assessments comprised of 80 to 90 questions each.

  • Manufacturing Skills Institute Manufacturing Technician Level 1: The MT1 certification demonstrates knowledge of computer-aided design skills, computer-controlled machine programming, precision measurement, machine maintenance and the use of diagnostic tools. 

  • MSI Manufacturing Specialist: MS certification indicates advanced skills in manufacturing technology, spatial reasoning, math and measurements.

  • Lean Certification: Offered by the Lean Certification Alliance, Lean Certification indicates that an individual is knowledgeable in the area of lean production and manufacturing, which is an approach that minimizes waste and emphasizes streamlined efficiency. Bronze, Silver and Gold certifications are available. To maintain certification, you must get at least 60 recertification credits over a period of three years.

Skills

Machine operators need a particular skill set to operate the complex equipment they use on a daily basis in addition to a variety of other hard and soft skills. Some common skills include:

  • Attention to detail: Machine operators must inspect products and may be required to spot small anomalies that may indicate the machinery is malfunctioning.

  • Communication: Manufacturing is a team effort where items often go through several stages to reach completion. The ability to collaborate and communicate with teams is part of keeping the entire production line running smoothly.

  • Physical strength and stamina: These abilities can keep a machine operator moving comfortably and safely even after several hours of repetitive movements.

  • Problem-solving: Machine operators are tasked with identifying and fixing minor errors with their equipment. Strong problem-solving skills will help them identify where errors are happening and find the best response.

  • Computer literacy: Machine operators often use computers to calibrate or operate machinery. They might also use computer programs to fill out reports or document production.

  • Proficiency with hand tools: Machine operators often use hand tools to calibrate their machinery, perform basic maintenance and handle minor repairs.

Machine operator work environment

Most machine operators are employed in manufacturing and factory settings. This industry is a fast-paced environment where it’s important to stay on schedule and maintain production speed. Machine operators must ensure that machines are operating at capacity—producing as many items as possible—which can create a high-pressure environment.

Throughout the course of the day, machine operators may have to stand, walk or sit for long periods. They often perform repetitive tasks with their hands and may also have to lift heavy items, typically weighing up to 40 pounds. 

As in any environment with heavy machinery, safety can be a concern. Machine operators are typically asked to wear protective equipment such as goggles, steel-toe boots, heavy gloves and earplugs in addition to completing regular safety protocol training to maintain nationally mandated and company-specific regulations.

How to become a machine operator

Follow these common steps to pursue this career path:

  1. Complete your high school education. Machine operators need a minimum of a high school diploma or the equivalent, which ensures you have basic math skills and other foundational education that can be helpful in the workplace.

  2. Gain familiarity with hand tools. Make sure you can properly use basic tools such as pliers, hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches, as these may be common in a manufacturing setting.

  3. Demonstrate your ability to work in a fast-paced environment. Gain entry-level work experience where you can practice your time management, attention to detail and ability to work efficiently on a team. Consider positions such as a warehouse worker or production worker.

  4. Complete an apprenticeship. Finish an apprenticeship of a year or more to help you learn to properly read blueprints, operate heavy machinery and understand the basics of a production line.

  5. Pursue certifications. Select one or more certifications to enhance your resume with a clear demonstration of industry-specific skills and knowledge. Some certifications may lead to advancement opportunities, leadership positions and increased salary.

  6. Build your resume. Create a resume that highlights your relevant experience in the production and warehousing industries. As you describe your previous work experience, highlight your problem-solving skills, communication skills, ability to use hand tools and familiarity with blueprints.

  7. Apply for machine operator positions. Look for machine operator positions in your area. Expand your job search to include terms specific to certain types of machines you’re interested in or have experience using, such as packing, moving or die-making machinery.

Machine operator job description example

We are seeking a detail-oriented machine operator with outstanding communication skills and the ability to work on a team. Our fast-paced manufacturing facility needs a skilled individual with at least two years of prior experience as a machine operator. You must be able to read blueprints, use calipers and micrometers, work with basic hand tools and perform regular testing procedures. A high school diploma or GED certificate is required, and an associate’s degree in a relevant field may be commensurate with experience.

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