Stecker Machine Blog

How to Learn CNC Machining: From School to the Shop Floor

04/18/2024 | Matt Oswald

CNC (computer numerical control) machining has revolutionized the manufacturing industry, empowering the production of precise, complex parts with unparalleled efficiency. As intimidating as that may sound, it’s not. There are various paths to learning and, eventually, mastering CNC machining.

We’ll explore how to learn CNC machining (gaining knowledge and experience), from traditional education to hands-on training.

On-the-Job Training 

Related to apprenticeships, on-the-job (OTJ) training for entry-level CNC machining positions involves learning specific machines and processes while working under the guidance of experienced machinists. This is an excellent way for you to gain practical experience and grow the specific skills required for your role.

This training complements classroom instruction, either through formal education (mentioned above) or a machine shop’s own classroom learning. It’s important to note that the depth of on-the-job training and classroom learning varies depending on the company and the resources they have available.

At Stecker Machine, you experience 16 hours of classroom training for a CNC operator, for example, plus machine-side one on one training OTJ over a 3 to 4-week span.

In addition, Stecker has an Employee Development Engineer, an expert on training procedures and developing the skills of employees. This position is not typical for CNC machine shops and can really help high-school-age learners thrive.

Online Courses and Tutorials 

Today's world is a digital world. Are you one of the many people comfortable with learning online? Some schools and industry-specific websites offer a variety of courses and tutorials on CNC machining, which can range from beginner to advanced levels.

While online courses — with video lessons, interactive exercises, quizzes, etc. — are convenient and flexible, it’s important for you to supplement those with hands-on learning whenever possible. Some courses may include virtual simulations or projects that you can complete using CAD/CAM software, but nothing can replace the experience of working with actual CNC machines and cutting tools.

Workshops and Seminars

An excellent way to expand your knowledge of CNC machining — and stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and techniques — is to attend workshops and seminars, often offered by industry associations and machine tool manufacturers.

These events provide opportunities for you to learn from experts in the field, network with other professionals, and see demonstrations of new machines, tools, and software. Some workshops may include hands-on training sessions, allowing you to gain practical experience with new equipment and techniques. For example the biannual International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago offers a wide range of exhibits, guest talks, training, and other resources. 

Formal Education

When many people think of “learning,” their mind goes to a formal education. While it’s true that some technical schools, community colleges, and universities offer degrees in mechanical engineering or manufacturing technology, that level of education isn’t necessary for a successful career in CNC machining.

If a formal education is on your radar, you can expect to learn the fundamentals of CNC machining, including:

  • Machining processes and techniques
  • Tooling and fixturing
  • Safety practices and procedures
  • Programming languages such as G-code and M-code
  • Programming software: CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing)

Earning a degree or certificate that relates to CNC machining can provide a solid foundation for your career and make you a competitive job candidate. Formal education is not a roadblock in CNC machining career as you can learn these skills on the job with hands-on work experience.


Many manufacturing companies offer apprenticeships: the opportunity to learn CNC machining directly from experienced professionals in a real-world setting.

As an apprentice, you’ll work alongside skilled machinists, learning the ins and outs of CNC machining, programming, and related production processes. This practical experience is a great combination of learning various CNC machines — lathes, mills, and maybe even robots — while also developing problem-solving and troubleshooting skills.

Most apprenticeships are strictly youth apprenticeships, designed for high-school-age learners. Typically a paid, part-time position, a youth apprenticeship is an introduction to CNC machining/processes that sets the stage for a successful career, all without racking up student loan debt.

There may be some misconceptions about working in a CNC machine shop, but the more you learn, the more comfortable you’ll be. Whether you choose to pursue a formal education, an apprenticeship, on-the-job training, online courses, or workshops, a great goal is to continuously learn and develop your skills. But remember, learning Machining takes time and you can expect it will take two to three years of experience to become a proficient CNC Operator. 

As you explore a CNC machining career, remember that dedication and hard work go a long way! You can enjoy a path that matches your lifestyle, offers a living income, keeps you challenged, and offers upward movement. You just need to explore it!

One final wonderful thing about CNC machining: you’re making a difference. High-quality precision machining is so important and valued in today’s economy. Dive deeper into what CNC machining is all about by reading our guide. Click the link below to start right now!

 CNC Machining Guide – What is CNC Machining?

Matt Oswald

About the Author

Matt leads SMC's Human Resources and Marketing Team. He has worked for Stecker Machine for over 7 years on projects spanning CNC manufacturing, robotics, inbound marketing, and leadership. He enjoys applying his engineering background to any business challenge.

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