Becoming a CNC Programmer: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons to becoming a CNC programmer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a CNC programmer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a CNC Programmer

Computer numerically controlled (CNC) programmers ensure that systems, machines, tools and equipment are all properly programmed to perform their designated function. You can learn additional pros and cons to becoming a CNC programmer by reading below.

Pros of Becoming a CNC Programmer
Minimal education requirements*
Advancement opportunities to supervisory or managerial positions*
On-the-job training and apprenticeship options*
Professional certification options available*

Cons of Becoming a CNC Programmer
Due to the dangerous work environment, injuries can occur*
Stamina is required for repetitive work*
Overtime is common in this type of career*
Many industries require you to work weekends and evenings*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Occupational Information

Job Description

The type of equipment you work with might vary with each employer, but generally your goal as a CNC programmer is to make sure the devices you use perform the intended job. So, if you work with a machine that is supposed to produce a precise part, you need to make sure the programming results in the machinery creating that part properly. You'll work alongside the machinists that use these machines and speak with them if an error occurs. If a problem does arise, you'll work at resolving the issue so production can continue.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014, the programmers for metal and plastic computer numerically controlled machine tools were reported to make $24.13 an hour which resulted in an average annual income of about $50,200 ( For the top ten percentile of wage estimates earned for this career, the salary was reported to be around $73,860. Washington, Oregon, California, Kansas and Vermont were the states that paid the highest on average for this career.

The BLS also reported a 28% employment growth during the 2012-2022 decade for metal and plastic CNC machine tool programs. Your job outlook tends to look better as a CNC programmer if you have previous work experience in the field or if you've taken the time to acquire professional certifications. Retirements from the baby boomer generation are expected to increase the number of jobs out there for CNC programmers.

Career Requirements

Education and Training

While a GED or a high school diploma may not be required for employment as a CNC programmer, it is recommended that you obtain one. While you're in high school, you'll want to take courses in mathematics, computer science, shop and blueprint reading.

There are certain post-secondary options you could look into as well, such as certificate or associate's degree programs in CNC programming in community colleges. In such programs, you'll take courses in CNC mill programming and CNC machining, as well as applied mathematics and geometric distancing. However, many people learn their CNC programming skills on-the-job or through formal apprenticeship programs. The lengths of these programs vary, but you'll work under the leadership of a trained professional and learn the trade that way.

What Do Employers Want?

Mechanical and computer skills are the two things many employers look for in CNC programmers. An employer wants a CNC programmer who is familiar with the type of equipment used in this field. If you have previous experience working with it, then you can be brought in right away to start work with minimal training. Other things that real employers wanted in CNC programmers can be learned by reading information that was taken in May 2012 from real job postings.

  • A CNC programmer opening in Pennsylvania calls for you to have experience with Geometric Tolerances and SolidWorks.
  • A Colorado business needs a CNC programmer who is knowledgeable about blueprint reading and manufacturing processing skills.
  • Five years of experience is required by a manufacturing business looking for a CNC programmer in Texas.
  • In California, a CNC programming job prefers that you have experience with Mastercam.

How to Stand Out as a CNC Programmer

The National Institute for Metalworking Skills offers certification options that can help a CNC programmer stand out from other competitors ( The designations that you can earn with this professional organization require you to complete a theory examination and a performance test. As part of the test, you may need to demonstrate that you understand the programming involved with the machine to get a specific part manufactured. The certifications available are in specific areas such as die-making, maintenance, forming, stamping and machining. There are different levels of designations to choose from depending on your level of experience. The more you work at obtaining these professional designations, the more you'll be able to show your commitment to the field and stand out from other CNC programmers.

Other Vocational Choices

If you do not enjoy the programming aspects of this career, then you can look into being a machinist instead. A machinist operates the machines CNC programmers work on. Your work goals as a machinist are to help produce the parts that are used in products such as automobiles. The BLS reported in May 2011 that machinists earned $41,000 or so on average in a year. The BLS also reported that there would be a slower-than-average seven percent growth in machinist employment during the 2010-2020 decade.

If you like the idea of programming, you may also want to consider transferring your skills over towards being a computer programmer. As a computer programmer, you would write programs in computer languages such as JavaScript or C++ to update or create new programs. You would also debug and test the code you write to make sure it's working correctly. Computer programmers are expected to see an employment growth of 12% from 2010 to 2020 according to the BLS. In May 2011, the BLS reported that the average income for computer programmers was about $76,000 annually.

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