This series of questions comes from a high school student interested in our
field. His questions really made me think back to the reasons why I entered and
stayed with CNC for my entire career. Though experienced CNC people may not
agree with all of my answers to his questions (and I welcome comments), I
wanted to make this information available to anyone who might have an interest
in pursuing a career in CNC.
Hao Duong: What do you like or dislike about CNC?
Mike Lynch: Though I cannot speak for everyone working in this field, my
favorite aspect is the feeling of accomplishment that comes with each success.
Anyone who has written a CNC program knows this feeling. Seeing a workpiece
being machined with your tooling, your process and your ideas is very
Hao Duong: Do I have to be good with my hands or know how to use special
Mike Lynch: Yes, it's imperative. While all of these skills can be learned
though technical school training, a person entering this field should like
working with their hands. As for special tools, yes, there are a number of
tools and measuring devices you must be familiar with. Again, skills in this
area can be learned in technical schools and on-the-job training.
Hao Duong: Will I need good communication skills?
Mike Lynch: Though you may be able to get by on technical skills alone,
your communication and "people" skills will determine how far you
will go. Managers, supervisors, and other higher level manufacturing positions
require you to work well with others. Keep in mind that I'm NOT talking about
simply speaking English. I'm talking about having the ability to make your
ideas known and to function well with others.
Hao Duong: Is there special training required?
Mike Lynch: Yes. There are any number of technical/vocational schools,
colleges, and universities that offer excellent courses in manufacturing,
including CNC. Additionally, most companies using CNC equipment are willing to
train entry level people. However, the more training you have to start, the
higher level position you can expect to get.
Hao Duong: Is there a license or certificate needed to get the job?
Mike Lynch: No. While the degree of certificate you receive from your
technical school will definitely help you land a better paying job, you can
enter the field (and work your way up) with very little previous experience.
Note that the emphasis here is "work your way up". The more training
you have, the easier it will be. For myself, there was a lot of "working
my way up". My two year associate degree in manufacturing technology did
not adequately prepare me for what I'm doing today. Only motivation and
enthusiasm will ensure that you have the energy to do the necessary work.
Hao Duong: Would more education or training be needed to get promoted?
Mike Lynch: In some companies, yes. However, you must understand that in
general, manufacturing companies are starving for qualified people, especially
qualified CNC people. There simply aren't enough qualified people to go around
(though some people currently looking for jobs might disagree). For this
reason, companies are quick to recognize people that stand out and show
motivation and enthusiasm. In most companies, people are promoted based upon
what they can do, not simply how much education they have. Also note that many
companies will actually pay for your education, as long as the course/s you
take are appropriate to your field.
Hao Duong: What occupations are related?
Mike Lynch: The actual job titles in CNC include CNC Operator, CNC Setup
Person, CNC Programmer, CAD/CAM (computer aided design/computer aided
manufacturing) programmer, and CNC coordinator. Other related occupations
include Tool designers, Manufacturing engineers, Quality Engineers, Tool
Makers, Mold Makers, and several others. If you have a special interest in one
or more of these positions, feel free to email me again.
Hao Duong: Is the work, outdoor, indoor, or both?
Mike Lynch: Almost all work is done indoors. In fact, I cannot think of any
task that is done outdoors. Hao Duong: Does the job require a great deal of
sitting or standing? Mike Lynch: CNC operators and setup people are on their
feet most of the time. CNC people in other positions get more of a combination
Hao Duong: Is the work full time , part time , or seasonal?
Mike Lynch: While some manufacturing companies take on temporary or part
time help, most require full time. Also note that many companies provide
internships for college students in related fields for summer work.
Hao Duong: What is the condition of the working environment?
Mike Lynch: This varies dramatically from company to company. Admittedly,
the machine shop environment does not lend itself to cleanliness. In fact, many
shops are downright filthy. Of course, the condition of the shop will tell you
a great deal about the company management's concern for their workers as you
begin interviewing. Most manufacturing companies are highly concerned, and
maintain very clean, safe, and pleasant environments for their workers.
Hao Duong: What kind of work can I expect to start with?
Mike Lynch: Again this depends upon your level of education. If you have
absolutely no experience, you may still be able to get a job as a CNC operator.
As I said, many companies are starving for people, and are willing to train
from scratch. However, you may also have to start as a "gopher",
someone who cleans machines, keeps lubrication levels full, and in general,
simply does the leg work for others in the company. It's much more difficult to
work your way up from this position.
Hao Duong: Where do you think I am most likely to find work? (Edmonton ,
Mike Lynch: I'm sorry, but I do not know the manufacturing base in your
area. However, CNC machines are found everywhere. If you can get your hands on
the business yellow pages, look up "machine shops" and
"manufacturing companies". A few calls asking whether the companies
in your area have CNC machines will go a long way toward understanding the
potential for a career in manufacturing in your area. Also note that people
that have CNC experience can go just about anywhere. Many companies are willing
to relocate qualified people and pay all moving expenses.
Hao Duong: Is the demand for the occupation expanding or declining, or
Mike Lynch: Very much so. Though the overall state of manufacturing is a
state of constant flux, at least some industries are always going well. It may
sometimes mean finding another job if a company is laying off.
Hao Duong: Will there be a job in the field in 5 or 10 years?
Mike Lynch: Yes. Though I do not have a crystal ball, if anything, North
America is on the upswing at this time. And though there will surely be
fluctuation, the general outlook is good. Combine this with how badly companies
need CNC people, and you should be able to confidently enter a college or trade
school, knowing a job will be waiting when you get out. In fact, manufacturing
currently offers more potential in this regard than just about any field,
though some so-called expert job councilors may disagree with me.
Questions asked by others interested in a CNC career:
Larry Odle: What type of schooling would you suggest to someone just
starting out in this field?
Mike Lynch: There are many local schools that have excellent CNC
curriculums (for a list check out our Schools
Forum). Most work closely with the local industry to ensure that their
courses meet the needs of companies in their area. I'll bow to the school in
your area to recommend specific courses, but the curriculum should include:
shop practices (blueprint reading, shop math, principles of machining
operations, and some hands on with manually operated machine tools), manual
programming at G code level for at least machining centers and turning
centers, CNC machine setup and operation, computer usage basics,
and CNC related software applications (computer aided design and
computer aided manufacturing [CAD/CAM], distributive and direct numerical
control systems [DNC], cost estimating, and CNC program verification). In each
of these areas, the more hands-on, the better.
Larry Odle: Would you suggest an emphasis on a computer education or an
Mike Lynch: Since CNC machines are highly dependent upon computers and
electronics, the more you know - the better. However, if you are looking for a
career working as a CNC programmer, setup person, or operator, your first focus
should be to master CNC machine usage. But service and repair of CNC machines
is also very important. If you are looking to be a service tech person, you'll
need a very good understanding of electronics.
Larry Odle: What are the requirements that your company looks for when
questioning taking on a perspective employee as a CNC programmer or a CAD/CAM
Mike Lynch: Though we at CNC Concepts, Inc. do not employ programmers or
CAD/CAM people, I've worked with enough CNC using companies to know what
they're looking for. At entry level (when hiring a person right out of
technical school), most simply expect a high degree of enthusiasm and
motivation. Believe it or not, your willingness to learn and grow with the
company will probably be as important to your perspective employer as your
qualifications (again this is for entry level expectations).
Again, thanks to everyone for this excellent set of questions a person
should ask before entering any field.