How to Get a Job as a CNC Machinist

Are you good at reading blueprints and technical drawings? Do you have a passion for technology and design? Are you committed to quality and safety? If so, then a career in computer numerical control (CNC) machining might be an excellent match for you.  


CNC machines are programmed to cut, shape, and finish raw materials like metal, plastic, and wood into manufacturing parts. It takes a lot of training and experience to oversee these complex machines. The machines must be calibrated, operated with great attention to detail, and regularly maintained to produce high-quality, precise manufacturing components. Depending on the size of the manufacturing facility and how many machines are in operation, it can take a team of skilled CNC machinists to keep CNC machines operating smoothly. 


What is a CNC Machinist?

CNC machinists work with CNC machinery from setup through operation. They oversee the machines that cut, grind, and drill raw materials into usable manufacturing parts. It’s one of the most complex jobs in skilled trades staffing because CNC machinists must understand each manufacturing process from start to finish to make the necessary adjustments to speed, material feed, and angle to guarantee a precise result from the machines. 


What Does a CNC Machinist Do?

The CNC machinist job description includes accuracy, quality, work ethic, and safety. Since CNC machinists are responsible for planning, setting up, programming, and executing the manufacturing of parts on a computer-controlled machine, they must have a keen eye for detail and make sure parts are made to exact specifications. They are often responsible for ordering stock, maintaining the work area, and ensuring all safety standards are observed. 


CNC Machinist Job Description: Duties and Responsibilities 

  • The core responsibilities of CNC machinists include: 
  • Ensure all CNC machines are in good working order before set up 
  • Set up the machinery to run as specified 
  • Carry out all programming as indicated 
  • Monitor the run, making sure all specifications are met 
  • Maintain machines as needed 
  • Operate according to safety standards 
  • Report any safety to management immediately 


CNC machinists work in factory settings like machine shops, where machinists produce replacement parts for other companies, and production shops, where they turn out a mass volume of parts for a particular company or product.  

Generally, CNC machinists work a regular 40-hour week, but overtime is common when deadlines are tight. Looking for a specific shift? Opti Staffing offers CNC machinist jobs in Portland, OR, and Vancouver WA, with various start times.  

Junior or apprentice CNC machinists will work under close supervision, while more experienced machinists lead a team. Many machinists begin their careers as CNC operators and work toward machinist-level as they gain experience in the trade. As one of the leading skilled trades staffing agencies in Portland, OR, and beyond, we can help you find a CNC machinist job that fits your skill level and provides room to grow. 


How to Become a CNC Machinist

Experience is key to success in CNC machining. Most machinists earn their high school diploma and then gain CNC skills by attending a technical school or community college. The highly technical work requires training in subjects like math, engineering, and computer science. It is also helpful to gain foundational knowledge in computer-aided design (CAD)/computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) operation, design technology, and mechanical skills. Some U.S. states have funding for high school students work toward a machining certificate while attending school, earning them credit at a community college or other post-secondary institution.  


CNC Machinist Certification 

CNC machinist certification is not required, although many find it increases their job prospects and can command higher pay. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) offers three levels of certification that are well-respected by machinists and employers. The CNC machinist certification program assesses a machinist’s skills against national standards, from entry-level operation to highly skilled milling and turning.  


CNC Machinist Training 

Another path to becoming a CNC machinist is through an apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship program. In a pre-apprenticeship program, students are paired with local manufacturing companies, where they begin their CNC machinist training and work toward gaining skills to earn a CNC apprenticeship under the supervision of an eligible CNC machinist journeyperson.  

 Many technical and community colleges work with local high schools to create a curriculum that teaches basic manufacturing skills that lead to higher level courses at their institution.  

Since machine skills are in high demand, companies often have established relationships with colleges so that they can easily recruit skilled workers.  

Another way to find the best CNC machinist jobs is by working with a staffing agency. As one of the top temp agencies in Portland, OR, Opti Staffing is the recruiting partner for some of the country’s leading companies. We fill the most sought-after jobs with great candidates who want to use their machinist skills in great work environments. 


How Much Does a CNC Machinist Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of labor statistics, the median annual wage for machinists was $47,730 in 2021, with the lowest percentage earning less than $30,220 and the highest percentage earning more than $68,250. Overall employment is expected to grow 7% over the next 10 years, with 47,500 projected job openings each year! 


What Skills do CNC Machinists Need?

To work as a CNC machinist, you must gain many technical skills and understand the computer language and programming rules that operate the equipment. You must be able to: 

  • Prepare work sketches 
  • Read blueprints to determine the specifications of the parts to be manufactured 
  • Study sample parts to determine specifications when blueprints aren’t available 
  • Calculate measurements using tools like micrometers to calculate precise measurements 
  • Perform mathematical calculations 
  • Set up CNC machines 
  • Operate equipment to manufacture the required products 
  • Inspect measurements of finished parts to ensure they meet all specifications 
  • Show mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity 


As well as technical skills, CNC machinists must also master softer skills. Some soft skills that help machinists work succeed on the job include: 

  • Communication. CNC machinists effectively communicate with a team to accomplish the complex tasks required in their jobs. They must also be able to communicate with CNC programmers to make needed changes in the manufacturing process.  
  • Teamwork. CNC machinists often work in teams and must be able to work in a group effectively.  
  • Safety. CNC machines are big, heavy, and dangerous if operated improperly. CNC operators and machinists must be committed to safety procedures to keep the workplace free of injuries. 
  • Problem-solving. Although the machines are programmed to do a job, it doesn’t always go as planned. CNC machinists must understand how the machines operate and be able to monitor production in case an error occurs. If a crash does occur, they need to be able to identify the root issue and correct it. 
  • Critical thinking. CNC machinists use critical-thinking skills to read blueprints and interpret specifications to operate the machines that create precise manufacturing parts. 
  • Attention-to-detail. Accuracy is essential to CNC machining. CNC machines make parts that must fit together exactly, with very little room for error. A CNC machinist must be meticulous and attuned to the fine details of the process, from setting up the machines through quality checking the final product. 
  • Physical fitness. The job involves performing repetitive motions while spending long hours on your feet. Physical fitness can make the job much easier for machinists. 
  • Self-assurance. A CNC machinist must have the confidence and assertiveness to stop production if they find an error, even if it means production delays and unhappy management or clients. 
  • Efficiency. Even in the most practiced process, there is room for improvement. The best CNC machinists think about ways to fine-tune the numerous steps of the process to create more efficient results.  
  • Strong work ethic. Working in a machine shop or production facility can be challenging. Staying focused on creating exact products while remaining alert for errors requires discipline and a strong work ethic. CNC machining is a demanding yet rewarding job for those with the skills to succeed in the machine shop! 


Find a CNC Machinist Job in the Pacific Northwest with Opti Today  

Are you looking for a CNC machinist job in  Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, or the Pacific Northwest? Let us help. Our recruiters are experts at skilled trades staffing and have access to exclusive full-time and contract opportunities. Whether you partner with our staffing agency in Vancouver, WA, Portland, OR, or another location, when you partner with us, you’re first in line for the best jobs! Contact Opti today.