Here’s a quick quiz for sharp, young minds: How many jobs can you name that fully train you, encourage career advancement, fit the busy lifestyle of a high-school-age person, and pay you a great wage from the day you start?
We can’t think of too many.
One that we know quite well is a CNC machinist, which may sound highly technical (and it is). Yet, it’s a traditional skilled trade that uses cutting edge technology to produce machined parts that are highly precise — cutting to 0.001” or about 1/4 the width of a human hair.
Entering a skilled trade during or after high school has never been more attractive. Have you seen the average yearly college tuition for a 4-year college in Wisconsin? It’s $8,697 per year (in-state tuition and fees; out-of-state jumps to over $25,000).1 It’s no surprise that the average student who borrows requires 20 years to pay off their student loan debt.2
In a previous article, we explained how A Career in CNC Machining Might Be Perfect For You (rewarding work, environment, variety, workflow, etc.). Today, we’ll explore how a job as a CNC machinist can evolve into a rewarding career for people in and after high school.
Free, On-The-Job Training
Continuous learning should be a lifelong journey. However, the cost of many colleges and universities can put young people in a tough financial spot, without any guarantee of landing a job after graduation.
A skilled trade has historically been a great option. Not only is it a real, paying job, it includes training of new people. Teaching and learning is a built-in part of a skilled trade, even very technical precision machining.
One way that happens in a CNC machine shop is through a youth apprenticeship. This type of program is becoming more and more common, especially for current high school students. It’s a paid, part-time position that introduces someone to high-tech equipment, including numerous computer-driven tasks: machining, programming, auditing, and logging data.
Modern youth apprenticeships go far beyond the everyday tasks required in a CNC machine shop (checking oil in machines, simple grinding, or other low-level support). They are designed to stress safety and elevate the skills of a person to quickly take on meaningful and challenging tasks, from CNC machine operator to assembly to pressure testing. The key is for the youth apprentice to experience many different areas of a shop’s operation.
For those people willing to learn and grow, smart CNC machine shops support outside education such as tech school classes, seminars, etc.
A Career Path, Not A Job
A long-lasting career is a common goal for many young people, but attending a 4-year college isn’t for everyone. A skilled trade makes it possible to learn valuable skills while getting paid (and not racking up debt). Specifically, CNC machining is an exciting career path that involves computers, robotics, and other technology, which keep young minds active and young bodies strong (tasks are not as physically demanding as some other skilled trades).
Why do so many youth apprentices, men and women alike, end up making a career in CNC machining? It’s challenging, fun, rewarding, and stable within the strong manufacturing industry in and around Northeast Wisconsin. It simply requires someone to take the opportunity and run with it.
If your career goals involve management responsibilities, a realistic path may be: Youth Apprentice → CNC Operator → CNC Technician/Setup → Lead-Worker → Production Supervisor. Yet, reaching that third level, “Technician/Setup,” also opens up other ways to succeed within a shop, such as engineering, design, or quality control. Having that knowledge of shop floor operations is priceless, letting someone pick and choose their own path.
Work That Matches Your Lifestyle
Not everyone works best in the typical work week: 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. As a CNC machinist, you can plan your life and then pick the shift that works for you — typically 1st Shift (6 am to 2 pm), 2nd Shift (2 pm to 10 pm), and 3rd Shift (10 pm to 6 am).
Are you an outdoor enthusiast who wants to be on the water, fishing pole in hand, at sunrise? Choose a night shift so you can hit the lake after work, when the bite is heating up. Want to join online gaming sessions with your friends? Pick the shift that’s best for that. Need to attend tech school classes? Work 2nd shift after you attend school.
Plus, 2nd and 3rd shifts are quieter overall, with fewer personnel in the shop, especially office workers, management, etc. Teamwork is a must at all times, but 2nd and 3rd shifts often provide a bit more independence and personal responsibility with just machinists and supervisors nearby. Some CNC machine shops operate shifts that are 10 hours a day, four days a week, providing an extra day off without work obligations.
In addition to work hours, the actual metal machining is a source of pride. That’s understandable with the incredibly impressive machining of parts done on a daily basis. Lastly, a CNC machining career involves no extra personal expenses to enter into it. A diesel mechanic, for instance, requires thousands of dollars in new tools just to begin the profession.
Although each business has its own policies and culture, there’s a lot of flexibility and different opportunities in a machine shop that can fit your lifestyle.
Income You Can Thrive With
It makes sense for CNC machine shops to recognize and reward their employees, including paying them well. The starting wage of a CNC machinist surpasses many other entry-level jobs, which could take a decade or more to reach the same amount of pay. A starting youth apprentice could make $13/hour immediately, with a full-time employee making around $18/hour right out of high school.
Again, it’s also important to remember that valuable training is constantly happening, adding more value to every working day. Similar to attending a trade school (without tuition costs), a CNC shop shows a dedication and commitment to new employees, which often inspires a complete career path.
Stecker Machine is a pioneer in youth apprenticeships, with current company president, Brian Stecker, having gone through the program decades ago. That focus on education continues today with new CNC operator training consisting of both classroom learning (16 hours total) and machine-side observation and instruction spread out over two weeks.
Expanding on an already robust training program, especially for young people, Stecker has created a new position: Employee Development Engineer, who is responsible for developing the skills of employees, with an emphasis on training procedures. This kind of investment sets Stecker apart from most CNC machine shops, specifically for high-school-age people.
1OnToCollege.com, Average College Tuition by State, April 30, 2021
2EducationData.org, Average Time to Repay Student Loans, December 16, 2021