How to Become a CNC Machinist – In 6 Steps

CNC or computer numeric controlled machines are crucial for manufacturing operations.

These machines slice, form, and finish raw materials into finished goods and require the skills, knowledge, and input from CNC machinists to ensure they operate optimally.

If you have a strong interest in working in design and technology while having a passion for complex tasks and precision, becoming a CNC machinist may be the best career path to meet your professional needs.

Keep reading to learn moreĀ about the steps required to enter this field, licensing requirements, online training programs, and average salary!

Steps to Become a CNC Machinist

CNC machinist job functions are highly technical and precise, so intensive preparation and training are required to master the craft.

Budding machinists can use vocational or academic paths to meet their career goals.

The following are the steps to becoming a CNC machinist including:

Step One: Research CNC Machinist Types

Several machinist job types exist, so it’s crucial to understand the differences and select those that best meet your career goals.

The three paths include operating machinists, programming machinists, and setup machinists.

Operating machinists ensure the ideal equipment function, whereas programming machinists specialize in CNC coding programs and changing existing programs, resulting in smooth part production that meets specifications.

Setup machinists monitor and adjust the equipment to ensure seamless operation.

Knowing the ideal job type will help you make the right educational or vocational training path.

Step Two: Take Preparation Courses

Employers require a minimum of a high school diploma to become a CNC machinist.

Pursuing a CNC machining program is recommended to improve your skills and knowledge.

This training path comprises practical firsthand training and structured classroom lessons, including metalworking, machine tooling, technical drafting, and blueprint reading.

Additional math-based courses like trigonometry and algebra enhance your marketability when searching for a job.

Step Three: Complete a Training Program

Although a degree is not a prerequisite to work in this field, employers prefer this career path.

If you’re interested in a certificate, only a few months are required to learn the basic skills.

Full programs are more comprehensive and offered by community colleges and technical institutions.

These usually require two years and award the graduate with an associate degree.

Most programs cover computer technology, math, engineering, design technology, and CAM/CAD.

Step Four: Finish an Apprenticeship

Becoming a CNC machinist master takes intensive firsthand training and time.

One way of gaining this necessary experience is through an apprenticeship.

The entry-level program takes around four years, depending on your specialization and training.

Apprenticeships apply theoretical knowledge from an educational program to a hands-on environment by operating equipment.

Lessons learned in an apprenticeship include CNC programming, computer-aided design, metallurgy, CNC machine operation basics, and safety practices.

Employers hire CNC machinists based on job experience, so enrolling in an apprenticeship can be incredibly advantageous throughout the job search.

Step Five: Acquire Certification

Once the apprenticeship is complete, you are qualified for certification, which confirms you are a credentialed worker regardless of your educational level.

Certification indicates that you possess the proper skills to operate CNC machines.

All certifications are offered through NIMS (National Institute for Metalworking Skills).

Click here for our practice test for CNC machinist certification.

Step Six: Use Your Skills

After being CNC machinist-certified, the next step is to find employment where you can use those developed skills.

Most opt for a position in the manufacturing sector, including the following industries:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Defense
  • Engineering maintenance
  • Gas and oil
  • Marine
  • Medical
  • Original equipment manufacturers
  • Power generation
  • Rail transport
  • Shipbuilding

Some CNC machinists choose self-employment and work as consultants on various project types.

Depending on your financial capability, you could also conduct small industrial tasks for different pay levels.

Licensing Requirements to Become a CNC Machinist

There are no licensing requirements to become a CNC machinist.

However, certification greatly boosts your employability, professional image, networking opportunities, and career advancement, and shows you’re committed to updating your skills.

Three certifications are available for CNC machinists, including the following:

  • Certified Journeyworker
  • CNC Setup Programmer
  • NIMS Certified Machinist

Online Training Programs

Although some CNC machinist programs can be completed online, it’s advisable to take in-person classes since it’s a hands-on field.

These are several of the best online and in-person programs:


CUNY offers an online CNC Machinist program with a comprehensive overview of grinding, quality, materials, metal cutting, safety, inspection, math, and work holding.

Students learn all topics required for an entry-level position, including safety, metallurgy, inspection methods, machining, CNC programming and controls, and Six Sigma topics.

The program requires 12 months and costs $2,245, including all books, fees, and materials.

Hawkeye Community College

The CNC Machining program offered by Hawkeye Community College is a short-term training program to give budding CNC operators the basic knowledge and skills required for entry-level fieldwork.

Students learn about lathe and mill operation and programming, blueprint reading, milling and turning processes, and gauging and precision measurement.

Curriculum topics include an introduction to all CNC machining, writing program code, editing programs, print reading skills, familiarity with feeds and speeds, and learning to indicate setups and vices during runs.

Class tuition costs $2,900, with financial aid available for qualified applicants.

Meridian Technology Center

The full-time CNC Machinist program offered by the Meridian Technology Center is a hands-on classroom where students work on real-world projects like writing programs to create prototypes, Computer-Aided Drafting, pre-engineering, and converting raw materials into parts.

The curriculum encompasses quality control, machine tool theory, computer numerical control operations, lathe and milling operations, precision grinding, and precision measurement.

Students must hold a high school diploma and achieve a subscore of 19 or better on the ACT exam in science, reading, math, and English.

Penn Foster

The online CNC Operator Training program from Penn Foster provides students with the information and knowledge required for an entry-level role that involves operating and setting up CNC equipment to create products that meet specifications.

Tuition is $1,200 and students learn basic safety procedures, programming, CNC technology, and machining skills.

The five-month course is non-credit and focuses on career training to gain the relevant skills the industry is seeking.

Universal Technical Institute

The 36-week CNC Machining Technology program from the Universal Technical Institute teaches students all topics ranging from setting up and operating CNC lathes and mills to interpreting geometric dimensions, reading blueprints, and programming.

This program uses industry-preferred technology so students can hit the ground running once entering the workforce.

For those who want to jump into the coursework, the program starts every six weeks, so it’s faster to get into your career.


The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) estimates that CNC machinist demand is expected to increase by three percent each year until 2029.

Many of these positions appear due to replacing workers who leave due to natural attrition or retirement.

Also, as technology improves, market demand for those who can operate specialized equipment will grow.

The BLS has also found that the average hourly wage is just under $22.00, which equates to around $44,400 annually.

These figures vary based on location, company size, manufacturing industry, and experience.

More experienced people are likely to earn more than entry-level positions.

Additional Resources