At Stecker Machine, we talk to a lot of job hunters who aren’t sure about working in a CNC machine shop. The day-to-day responsibilities, the culture, the work environment … it can be intimidating.
That’s why we had a discussion with recent hire, Zane, to get his thoughts. He’s been a CNC machine operator for three months, and here’s what he’d like to share with people who may be interested in a career in CNC machining.1. Education Is Good, But It Isn’t Everything — While a high school senior, I participated in a youth apprenticeship program at a small CNC machine shop and took a couple classes at the local technical college. That education was enough when I applied for full-time work at a large CNC machine shop years later.
|To be a good CNC machine operator, it helps to understand math, measurements, print-reading, and basic computer skills (windows, keyboarding, etc.). A great attitude is probably the most important thing!|
2. Positive Referrals Are Powerful — I left machining for a few years but then heard from a friend about how Stecker Machine was such a great place to work and how nice everyone was. I then remembered how I liked CNC machining, reconsidered my career path, and applied.
|My advice is to talk with friends, neighbors, anyone who may know about a CNC machine shop you’re interested in.|
3. What’s Your First Impression? — Before applying, though, I checked out Stecker Machine’s website. What stood out to me was their amount of machines, the type of work they do, and how clean and organized the shop looked. I was impressed by the effort they put into contacting me and wanting to talk about the open position.
|Doing some research really helps. Get online and look around.|
4. Training Is Provided — Once I was hired, the shop did a great job of training me; every other day was classroom learning (basic CNC theory, using PLEX and the ERP system), while the days between were job shadow training on the floor. It was a lot of information to absorb, but the teachers and managers were patient. They took time to understand what I was learning, making sure I was comfortable with the fundamentals.
|I learned about G-code and M-code, various materials, cutting, setup; there is always more to learn!|
5. Love Work Variety? — One reason I was attracted to CNC machining was the range of experiences while working. It wasn’t long before I was doing different machining on many different parts. They acted on my desire to take on a broad range of responsibilities.
|Some people have a false preconceived idea that factory work is very repetitious. Really, CNC operators are often asked to discover the root of a problem and create a creative way to solve it.|
6. Not All Environments are the Same — The difference in working environments between my apprenticeship at a small shop and Stecker is huge. A bit older than I was, I’m now more concerned about cleanliness, safety, and connecting with team members.
|I’ve only worked at two CNC machine shops, but this one felt like a family environment from the beginning.|
7. Comfortable Work Flow — Not all CNC machine shops operate at a comfortable pace. I’m given the time to focus on quality, not just quantity. Even while still in training, the pace was about learning to do the job right, creating a reasonable flow, and staying engaged in the work.
|At the best CNC machine shops, time is given to conduct quality control and check tooling. Read more in this article: “What Does a CNC Machine Operator Do?”|
8. Breaks Feel Like Breaks — Treating people right even when they’re not working is an important aspect of any job. This CNC machine shop has an impressive break room that makes us feel valued. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like taking breaks as an entire team (instead of “when you need them” breaks), but I like that I can talk to other operators about my project or just about life.
|I also like the greenspace — picnic tables, ponds, a walking path, grassy area with shady trees — that’s often used when the weather is good.|
9. Reasonable Physical/Mental Demands — While not incredibly mind-bending, CNC machine shop work keeps operators mentally engaged. Physical demands are reasonable (loading, deburring, etc.), with gantries doing the heavy lifting of large parts.
|It’s important for women to understand that they’re welcome here and given the same opportunities to succeed.|
10. A True Career Path — After just 3 months, I’m now conducting set-up for a work cell, which is preparing the area and the machine for a specific project. There are so many paths someone can take: quality control, engineering, sales, supervisory positions, etc.
|Ambitious employees are encouraged to gain new skills and take on more responsibilities.|
11. Promoting From Within — I respect any employer that looks at its current people first when filling a higher position. It’s admirable, and it’s smart. Stecker is known for that; the presidents and many managers worked their way up several career steps, beginning by being an operator.
|I’m looking forward to possibly moving up in the future, after I earn it.|
12. Here’s The Best Part — For me, taking a raw material and shaping it into a functional, useful product is a rewarding thing. When everything is done right, the result is a perfect part. The part I just machined is critical to making an entire engine run properly. What I do makes a difference. That’s exciting.
|Okay, here’s the second “best part” of my job: the starting pay for a CNC operator is $18 per hour, which increases with expertise, experience, taking on difficult parts, and performing setups. Plus, the benefits are top-notch.|
When someone asks how my new job is going after three months, I can honestly say that I’m excited to go to work every morning. I like being here, and it’s improved my life outside of work, too. I’ve encouraged people I know to apply at Stecker. It’s the favorite job I’ve ever had.
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