Machinist Training Programs and Education Requirements

Machinists operate precision metal-cutting equipment to produce metal parts according to mechanical blueprints. They use a range of cutting and measuring tools, such as lathes, drill presses, vices, micrometers and milling machines. A sharp eye for detail and mastery of metalwork equipment are necessary for this career.

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Machinist Training Programs

There are several possible training paths for machinists. Some prepare for the career by attending apprenticeship programs. Others may pursue associate's degrees. Machinists may also train solely through employer training programs or, more commonly, through a combination of formal and on-the-job instruction.

Machinist Education Requirements

A high school diploma or the equivalent is the minimum formal requirement for machinist education. During secondary school, students can prepare for careers in machinery by focusing their studies on subjects such as trigonometry, geometry, metalworking, drawing and computer science. Postsecondary degrees are not required, but some form of occupational training is necessary. Machinists must be expertly familiar with their tools to ensure accuracy, so whether training programs are formal or informal, they should focus on hands-on, technical experience with metal-cutting and measuring machinery.

Apprenticeship Programs

Machinist apprenticeship programs are available through community colleges, vocational schools and metal parts companies. Apprenticeships can last as long as four years and provide beginning machinists with full-time, paid training in metal shops. Apprentices interpret blueprints and practice using basic equipment, such as lathes, saws and grinders, under the supervision of skilled machinists. These programs also incorporate lessons in the classroom, such as instruction in math, drafting and shop safety.

Associate's Degrees

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an increasing number of machinists are gaining vocational training in associate's degree programs (www.bls.gov). Available at community colleges and technical schools, 2-year degree programs in machine technology prepare students for entry-level positions in metalworking. Curricula focus on theory and technical skills applicable to the field. Courses may include precision measurement, computer numerically controlled machinery, blueprint reading, lathe and milling operation, manufacturing math and quality control. After obtaining employment, machinists with associate's degrees are usually required to continue training on the job.

Certification

While not mandatory, machinists may choose to exhibit technical skills by earning professional certification. The Fabricators & Manufacturer's Association, International offers the Precision Sheet Metal Operator designation to qualified candidates (www.fmanet.org). To be eligible for certification, applicants must have one year of machine operator experience, technical instruction or apprenticeship training. They are also required to pass a 100-question multiple choice exam focused a variety of metalwork topics, such as materials, equipment operation, machine maintenance, quality control and safety.

The BLS reported that the job growth for machinists was expected to be seven percent between 2010-2020. Those with a wide range of skills would have the best job prospects. Also according to the BLS, the average annual salary for machinists was $40,860 as of May 2012.

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