How do I begin a CNC Career?

Job Profiles - CNC machinist

Found out WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CNC MACHINING? now it's time to discover how you get a job in the trade, what you need and how much you can make!

37-40 per week (average)

Starting Salary
£15,000 + per year (average)

Skilled engineering craft workers create precision parts used in manufacturing and engineering. They use computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools to cut, drill and finish components.

If you have good practical skills and are interested in an engineering career, this could be the job for you.

To do this job well you will need basic computer skills, an understanding of engineering instructions and the ability to work to a high level of accuracy.

You can get into this career by taking an engineering Apprenticeship or studying at college for an engineering qualification.


The Work

You would work mainly with metals but you could also deal with wood, composite materials and plastics. Most of the parts you made would be for use in the automotive, power, aerospace and manufacturing industries.

[BLOG] What YOU need to know about CNC Machining 

Your typical duties would include:

  • programming the machine tool with data taken from technical drawings
  • planning the most efficient order of machine operations for each job
  • choosing the right tools for each stage
  • setting the cutting speeds and tolerance levels
  • carrying out the operations
  • checking that work meets quality and technical standards
  • routine maintenance.

CNC machines produce large quantities of components to exactly the same standard and machinists can learn to operate a variety of CNC machine tools such as:

  • lathes
  • grinding machines
  • milling machines
  • cutting machines
  • drills and presses
  • machining centres that combine the above functions.


You would normally work 37 to 40 hours a week, possibly on shifts covering weekends, evenings and nights.

You would spend most of your time in a factory or workshop, operating and monitoring the machines.

You would use mechanical hoists to put heavier materials onto the machines, and lift and place smaller sections by hand.

For most jobs you would wear protective overalls, boots, goggles and ear defenders.


Starting salaries can be around £15,000 a year. Experienced machinists can earn up to £25,000 a year.

With supervisory duties, this can rise up to £30,000 a year.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry requirements

A common way to get into this career is through an engineering Apprenticeship. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need. To find out more, visit the Apprenticeships website.


To get onto an Apprenticeship, employers may ask for GCSEs (A-C), in subjects like maths, English, science, engineering and design and technology.

Another option is to take a college course to learn some of the practical engineering skills that employers want. Relevant courses include:

  • Level 1 Certificate in Engineering
  • Level 1 Certificate In Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Level 2 Certificate in Mechanical Engineering
  • Level 2 Award in Engineering (Specialist: Manufacturing Engineering).

 See the Tomorrow's Engineers website for more general information about engineering as a career.

 Training and Development

You will usually receive on-the-job training once you start work. This would include learning how to operate various machines, health and safety and company procedures.

Your employer may encourage you to take industry qualifications most relevant to your area of work, such as:

  • Level 2 (NVQ) Diploma in Performing Engineering Operations
  • Level 2/3 (NVQ) Diploma in Mechanical Manufacturing Engineering
  • Level 3 Diploma in Engineering and Technology
  • Level 3 (NVQ) Diploma in Engineering Toolmaking
  • Level 3 (NVQ) Diploma in Engineering Woodworking, Pattern and Model Making.

Skills, interests and qualities

To become a CNC machinist, you will need:

  • the ability to read engineering drawings and instructions
  • good practical skills
  • maths and computer skills
  • the ability to work with a high level of accuracy
  • concentration and focus
  • the ability to work unsupervised
  • a reasonable level of fitness.
  • a willingness to work flexibly. 

More information

Institution of Mechanical Engineers
1 Birdcage Walk
020 7222 7899

SEMTA (Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies in the UK)
14 Upton Road
WD18 0JT
Tel: 0845 643 9001

Women into Science, Engineering and Construction
Athlone Wing
Old Building
Great Horton Road
Tel: 01274 436485


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