what is a CNC machinist?

A computer numerical control (CNC) machinist operates CNC machinery in factories. When you are new, you start as a CNC machine operator. The role involves loading raw materials, observing the CNC machine, making adjustments to specifications and ensuring that the machine creates the tools correctly.

Over time, you advance to higher positions with more responsibilities. However, you still have the same basic duties, including loading raw materials, keeping the machine running and ensuring that measurements are exact to the millimetre. The tiniest mistake could result in wasted materials and tools, costing your company money and forcing you to start again.

Working as a CNC machinist requires physical stamina and digital know-how. CNC machinists don't have backbreaking jobs, but you stand on your feet for long periods. Your employer won't expect you to know how to configure the machine when you start, but you should be familiar with technology and software. Fortunately, employers provide the training you need to keep the machinery running smoothly. You'll create tools, work with your hands and learn new skills. Furthermore, CNC machinists are always in demand.

Would working as a CNC machinist suit your digital know-how and detailed-oriented skills? Then read on to find out what competencies and qualifications you need to thrive in a CNC machinist role.

CNC machinist jobs

average CNC machinist salary

According to Job Bank, CNC machinists in Canada take home a salary of $52,361 per year or $26.85 per hour. After your apprenticeship, your starting salary is $44,850 yearly. The most experienced workers earn over $64,314 annually.

how to earn a higher salary as a CNC machinist

As a CNC machinist, you are usually paid hourly, and the earnings increase when you work overtime or take up more responsibilities. The salaries also depend on your post-secondary qualifications and experience level. You can negotiate a higher salary with additional years of training and experience.

The industry you work in also influences your earnings. Your duties are more complex when you work in the aerospace or motor vehicle manufacturing industries. The additional duties come with a higher salary.

download our salary guide

types of CNC machinists

Some types of CNC machinists include:

  • CNC operators: as a CNC operator, you load stock material into the machine and run the parts. The job is usually suitable for beginners since it doesn't involve adjusting the machine specifications and complex tasks.
  • CNC set-up operators: you prepare and test the program, set up tools and ascertain that the parts work as expected. In case of malfunction, you fix the problem.
  • CNC programmers: your job is to read and interpret blueprints to determine how to make specific parts. You also write programs to generate the parts you need and pick out the tools required for the process.
Male operator using a touch-screen display. Primary color red. Secondary color blue.
Male operator using a touch-screen display. Primary color red. Secondary color blue.

working as a CNC machinist

As a CNC machinist, your job involves programming machines and ensuring a safe working environment. Here are the duties, responsibilities and work environments of CNC machinists.


CNC machinist skills and education

The educational requirements of being a CNC machinist include:

  • apprenticeship program: to become a CNC machinist, complete your secondary school and join an apprenticeship program. It takes four years, or you can complete the same amount of work experience and industry courses in machining for trade certification.
  • experience: in some regions, you require a trade certification to work as a CNC machinist. You can gain experience through the apprenticeship program and entry-level roles. When you complete the required training, you get a trade certification from British Columbia with the Industry Training Authority British Columbia. In Manitoba, the profession is also regulated by Apprenticeship Manitoba.

competencies and characteristics of CNC machinists

Some of the skills of a CNC machinist include:

  • software skills: you don't need software expertise, but you should learn how to use specific computer programs when you get hired. As an entry-level employee, you perform basic functions and make mathematical calculations. Your employer will expect you to learn more about the program as you take on higher positions.
  • physical strength: as a CNC machinist, you stand for long periods and engage in physical activity. While observing the machine is part of your job, you also gather the materials, clean the products that the machine produces, package the parts and complete other physical tasks. Most of these duties are easy, but it is important to be physically fit.
  • detail-oriented skills: CNC machinists need an eye for detail and a perfectionist streak. Every setting on the machine has to be exact. Similarly, you clean and package the products precisely to your factory's specifications.
  • multi-tasking skills: as a CNC machinist, you juggle multiple duties, from loading stock materials to monitoring the manufacturing process and testing end products. You need multi-tasking skills to succeed in the role.


Here, you will find the answers to the most frequently asked questions about the profession of a CNC machinist.


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