Becoming an Engine Machinist: Job Description & Salary Info

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An engine machinist's average salary is around $42,000. Is it worth the education and training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career outlook to find out if becoming an engine machinist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Engine Machinist

Engine machinists test and build machines using special machinery and tools. You can find out the pros and cons of becoming an engine machinist by reading below.

Pros of Becoming an Engine Machinist
Multiple educational routes (apprenticeships, post-secondary education)*
Well-lit and ventilated work environment*
Safety equipment provided*
Job opportunities expected to be excellent in the coming years*

Cons of Becoming an Engine Machinist
Low wages ($20/hr., lower than national average for all occupations)*
Long hours on your feet and repetitive movements*
Weekend and evening hours may be required*
Injuries can occur if safety procedures aren't followed*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Occupational Information

Job Description

Machinists help create and put together the parts that form an engine or precision instrument using manual or computer-controlled tools. You might be required to read blueprints or computer aided design files, set up and operate tools and calculate dimensions in order to build engines and other precision parts. You might also be assigned to maintenance work, in which you would repair damaged engines and engine parts.

Salary Info

The BLS reported that machinists in general earned around $20 an hour or $42,000 annually in May 2014, with the top ten percentiles earning more than $60,000. Natural gas distribution, elementary and secondary schools, electric power generation, computer systems design and local government are the top paying industries for machinists. The states that paid the highest on average were the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Alaska and Delaware.

Job Outlook

Skilled machinists are valuable to manufacturers who have investments in new product designs, production techniques and equipment. The BLS projected this field to experience an average rate of employment growth of 9% from 2012 to 2022. Job opportunities were expected to be excellent due to the fact that there will be more job openings than skilled workers to fill them. In certain parts of the country, employers report difficulty finding skilled machinists for the job openings that are available.

Requirements

Training and Education

While there is no formal education requirement for this vocation, you can gain skills and experience in a couple of ways. Programs are available that lead to associate degrees or certificates in automotive technology or engine machining at various technical schools and community colleges around the country. Technical mathematics, machining, engine repair, engine balancing and engine condition diagnosis are some of the courses you can expect to complete in these programs. If at all possible, you'll want to take drafting, metalworking and blueprint reading classes while in high school.

In lieu of college, you can become an apprentice. Apprenticeships normally last for four to five years and provide you with paid on-the-job training under the tutelage of professional engine machinists.

According to the BLS and employers, mechanical, technical, math, computer and analytical skills are important for this job. Other qualities include a good eye for detail and ability to follow directions.

What Do Employers Want?

Most employers prefer someone with experience in machining or automotive technology or completion of an applicable vocational program. Below are some real job listings for engine machinists from May 2012.

  • An employer in California is seeking a high precision engine machinist to test, tune and build engines and add horsepower. The ideal candidate is experienced in building, testing and tuning engines and carbureted motors.
  • An engine machinist opening in Arizona calls for someone who is at least 21 years old, has a high school diploma and has completed a vocational program in machining or has a year of experience working in a machine shop.
  • A Texas business is looking for an engine machinist with tools for field and shop work.
  • An engine remanufacturing plant in Washington State is seeking candidates for various engine assembly and machining jobs. An automotive background and experience with a lathe and welding is preferred.

How to Stand Out as an Engine Machinist

The BLS points out that if you take the time to earn professional designations and certifications, you can set yourself apart from other engine machinists who don't have these credentials. You can also obtain journey-level certification from your state board of apprenticeships, which many employers recognize.

Professional groups and organizations like the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offer certification by passing written and practical exams. There are currently 52 credentials offered in metalworking by NIMS covering different areas of machinist work, such as slide forming, screw machining, stamping and press braking. There are multiple levels of each certification as well.

Other Career Choices

Machine Tool Operator

If you like working with machines but do not want to invest the time in a vocational program, you might want to consider working as a machine tool operator in metal and plastic. You'll use robots and machine tools to cut and form specific shapes and parts out of metal or plastic, depending on the nature of your employer's business. Metal and plastic computer-controlled machine tool operators earned about $37,000 on average annually according to the BLS in May 2011. From 2010 to 2020, metal and plastic machine operators were predicted to see only a 6% increase in employment; however, jobs were expected to come available in the coming years as baby boomers retire.

Automotive Service Technician

If you enjoy working with engines and automobiles on a broader scale, look into becoming an automotive service technician or mechanic. Your duties can range from identifying issues with automobiles through the use of specialized diagnostic machines to doing basic maintenance like tire rotations or replacing a worn or broken part like a brake pad. You also have the opportunity to own your own shop; in 2010, 18% of auto mechanics reported that they were self-employed. In May 2011, the BLS found that automotive service technicians and mechanics had a yearly average income of roughly $39,000. The BLS' projected a 17% rate of employment growth from 2010-2020 for this vocation, slightly higher than the national average for all vocations.

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