Machinists Have a Bright Future The Buzz


Instead of fading away, trade jobs are getting a second wind with new technology. High-tech tools are common, and machinists need the right skills to operate them. Those with the right skills have a bright future.

In general, machinists produce precision metal parts. They use machine tools such as lathes, drill presses and milling machines. They must carefully plan and prepare each operation.

Some machinists, called production machinists, may produce large amounts of a single part. Others may do maintenance work like repairing or making new parts for existing machinery.

Most machinists work in small machining shops or in manufacturing firms that produce durable goods. These goods include metalworking and industrial machinery, aircraft or motor vehicles.

"The job outlook for certified machinists is very good for the next few years," says Scott Jackson. He is president of a council of machinists.

"At present, there is a shortage of qualified employees. This is due very much to the fast pace of change in the field as well as a reluctance by employers to take on apprentices," he says.

Computers play a big part in new machining technology. "Most of the new machine tools are CNC [computer numerically controlled]. A program is written for the machine, the machine is set up in the correct manner, and the computer actually runs the machine," says Jackson.

"It [a machinist's job] has changed significantly with the rise of technology," says Dave Robocker. He's the director of the manufacturing program at Shoreline Community College.

"Now a machinist has to be computer-literate, has to understand basic electronics, has to understand basic physics. It's a jack of all trades," he adds.

"I think the outlook for machinists and other trade professionals is really good. In the Seattle area, it's above average, and in other parts of the U.S., it's well above average."

Alan Lynam is a mechanical engineering technology instructor at Delaware Technical and Community College. "The employment outlook is very good in the Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas," he says.

"We actually have job postings right now for machinist openings in the area and we really can't fill them...we need more entry-level students to come into our program."

These employment growth predictions are consistent with national reports.

Many job openings come from the need to replace experienced machinists who leave the occupation or retire.

Education is a key factor in finding the best jobs. "A lot of people learn on the job. However, I can't speak enough for a good combination of academic and hands-on training," says Robocker.

And although a degree or certificate isn't absolutely necessary, it benefits the holder a great deal. "In this case, it's going to get their foot in the door very quickly because they've invested a lot of time in their education," says Lynam.

Future machinists have several educational options.

Formal training varies from apprenticeship programs to post-secondary programs, such as one-year certificates and associate's degrees. You will study math, physics, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing and shop practices.

As machine shops have increased their use of computer-controlled equipment, training in the operation and programming of CNC machine tools has become essential.

Delaware Technical and Community College offers a certificate. According to Lynam, this program is a "very hands-on, intensive" 49 college credit hours with shops and labs.

It's never too early to begin preparing for a job as a machinist. High school may be the place to start. "I suggest highly that they take as much math as they can, applied physics, and science classes," says Robocker. He believes that there is a misconception that machinist programs are for high school dropouts.

"I want the cream of the crop," says Robocker. He can't expect less, as the job of the machinist requires highly trained workers.

Informing young people of careers in the skilled trades is the goal of Larry Tasker of Precision Machined Products Association. He believes that this is necessary in order to fill the future demand for screw machine operators, a type of manufacturing equipment.

"The outlook for screw machine operators, both journeyperson and apprentice, is extremely good...approximately 500,000 new or replaced skilled tradespersons will be needed in the next five years," he says.

"We are trying to reach young people in the fifth and sixth grades, and their parents, to promote careers in the skilled trades."

According to Tasker, a successful career in the skilled trades requires three things:

  1. Good math skills development
  2. Good communication skills development
  3. Pride and ethics

Skilled trade jobs will continue to be strong. Machinists are in demand, offering skilled workers a secure job making good money.

Links

American Machinist
Full of articles on the machinist's trade

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
Covers topics of interest to North American machinists