California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Machinists in California

May also be called: Precision Machine Operators; Production Machinists; Tool and Die Machinists; Utility Operators

Specialties within this occupation include: Experimental Machinists; Maintenance Machinists

What Would I Do?

Almost everything we touch in our daily lives, from automobiles to blenders, contains parts crafted by a Machinist. Even items such as books, magazines, and ice cream sundaes depend upon the skills of a Machinist in their production. A Machinist is the key person in producing the needed equipment and utensils that result in the products we enjoy.

Machinists use machine tools, such as lathes, drill presses, and milling machines to produce precision metal or plastic parts. Some Machinists produce large quantities of a single part. Other precision Machinists produce small batches or one-of-a-kind items. They use their knowledge of the working properties of metals and their skill with machine tools to plan and carry out the operations needed to make machined products that meet precise specifications. Specifications often require high precision tolerances. After completing the machining operations, Machinists may finish, fit, and assemble the final part.

Increasingly, Machinists use computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools to perform daily tasks. In fact, as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software becomes easier to understand and numerical control machines are more widely used, Machinists are increasingly expected to perform this function.

Some Machinists may work in the renewable energy generation sector, participating in activities related to developing and using energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. This sector also includes traditional, non-renewable sources of energy undergoing significant green technological changes, such as, oil, coal, gas, and nuclear energy. Other Machinists may work in the manufacturing sector, in the industrial production of green technology as well as energy efficient manufacturing processes.

For example, some Machinists may specialize in the production of metal and plastic parts for wind turbines, used to generate environmentally sustainable energy. These Machinists review blueprints for specific wind turbine parts and select the tools and equipment needed to produce the pieces. They also make calculations for the cutting, drilling, shaping, and filing of various materials they work with, to include, steel, aluminum, titanium, and plastic. They also use their metal properties knowledge and machine tooling skills to manufacture parts to very precise specifications.

Experimental Machinists, also known as Prototype Machinists, assist designers and engineers in developing new products and production processes. Working from rough engineering sketches or verbal instructions, these Machinists use their experience and ingenuity to produce experimental tooling and parts, and to build complete working prototype models for testing.

Maintenance Machinists overhaul and renovate equipment and machinery. They diagnose equipment malfunctions and repair or fabricate new parts, using numerical control or mechanical machine tools and metalworking techniques. They may also install new equipment.

Tools and Technology
Some of the tools used by Machinists may include: boring tools, calipers, drilling machines, grinding machines, hammers, lathes, milling cutters, and workshop presses. Technology used in this occupation may include the following software: analytical or scientific, computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), industrial control, project management, spreadsheet, and word processing.

Green Economy
The green, sustainable production of goods will be important in many industries in the future. There is also a growing need for manufactured products that use processes that are non-polluting, conserve energy and natural resources, and are economically sound. As a result, there may be more opportunities for Machinists to work in the green economy.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Green economy activities and technologies would most likely have an effect on Machinists. As the emerging green economy calls for more innovative and environmentally-friendly products and practices, there will be changes to the work and worker requirements for Machinists, such as new tasks, skills, knowledge and credentials. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Calculate dimensions and tolerances using knowledge of mathematics and instruments such as micrometers and vernier calipers.Mathematics
Study sample parts, blueprints, drawings, and engineering information to determine methods and sequences of operations needed to fabricate products, and determine product dimensions and tolerances.Engineering and Technology
Set up, adjust, and operate all of the basic machine tools and many specialized or advanced variation tools to perform precision machining operations.Operation and Control
Select the appropriate tools, machines, and materials to be used in preparation of machinery work.Equipment Selection
Monitor the feed and speed of machines during the machining process.Operation Monitoring
Observe and listen to operating machines or equipment to diagnose machine malfunctions and to determine need for adjustments or repairs.Troubleshooting
Align and secure holding fixtures, cutting tools, attachments, accessories, and materials onto machines.Arm-Hand Steadiness
Machine parts to specifications using machine tools such as lathes, milling machines, shapers, or grinders.Mechanical
Set controls to regulate machining, or enter commands to retrieve, input, or edit computerized machine control media.Control Precision
Measure, examine, and test completed units to detect defects and ensure conformance to specifications, using precision instruments such as micrometers.Quality Control Analysis
Maintain industrial machines, applying knowledge of mechanics, shop mathematics, metal properties, layout, and machining procedures.Equipment Maintenance
Dispose of scrap or waste material in accordance with company policies and environmental regulations.Production and Processing
Separate scrap waste and related materials for reuse, recycling, or disposal.Category Flexibility
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Machinists work indoors in machine shops or factories which are relatively clean, well-lit, and ventilated. Machinists spend most of the day on their feet and must follow strict safety rules. They wear safety glasses to protect their eyes from flying metal pieces. Loud noise from machinery requires use of hearing protectors.

Journey-level Machinists and specialist Machinists are usually expected to have their own hand tools and precision measuring instruments. Most machine shops supply tools for new workers to use until they can purchase their own sets.

Some manufacturing plants operate around the clock. Machinists may be required to work evenings, nights, or weekends as well as overtime when needed during peak production periods. As Machinists obtain seniority, they have more choices about shift assignments.

Depending on the type and location of the employer, Machinists may belong to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers or other labor organizations. Generally, Machinists working for small employers do not belong to unions.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Machinist may appeal to those who enjoy working with their hands, operating machines to install or move things, performing duties that are clearly defined, and paying close attention to details. This occupation may also be a good fit for those who enjoy activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. Additionally, aspiring Machinists should be able to work independently and be suited to do work that requires close and continuous concentration.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Machinist wages in California differ widely depending on job duties and responsibilities, work experience, type of industry, and location of the work. Machinists in large cities usually earn higher wages than those who work in smaller towns and rural areas. Apprentices earn much less than Machinists, but earnings increase quickly as they improve their skills. Many employers pay for apprentices’ training classes.


The median wage in 2020 for Machinists in California is $46,578 annually, or $22.39 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2020Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2020 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Most employers provide health, dental, and life insurance, holidays, sick leave, and retirement and vacation benefits. Machinists belonging to a union may enjoy additional benefits provided through collective bargaining agreements.

What is the Job Outlook?

With the increased focus on the sustainable production of goods and manufacturing processes that are environmentally sound, there may be more opportunities for Machinists. They will become more efficient as a result of the expanded use of and improvements in technologies, such as computer numerically controlled machine tools, autoloaders, and high-speed machining. Technology, however, is not expected to affect the employment of Machinists as significantly as that of most other production occupations because Machinists monitor and maintain many automated systems.

Most job openings will come from Machinists retiring or leaving the occupation for other reasons. Additional growth for Machinist jobs will occur from temporary help firms. As Machinists leave this kind of work, opportunities are created for workers entering the field who have mechanical aptitude, computer skills, and mathematical ability. Due to modern production techniques, employers prefer Machinists who have a wide range of skills and are capable of performing almost any task in a machine shop.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Machinists is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Machinists are expected to increase by 4.2 percent, or 1,500 jobs between 2016 and 2026.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A common path for Machinists is a formal apprenticeship program offered through local unions or employers, which includes full-time work, on-the-job training, and job-related classroom instruction. Use of computer-controlled machine tools is common, therefore basic computer and electronics courses are also needed. Most apprenticeship programs last four years and lead to journey-level status. Some two-year apprenticeships lead to specialist Machinist jobs. Apprentice applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or qualifying scores on the General Educational Development (GED) or California Proficiency Test.

Training in machine tool technology is available at community colleges, private trade/technical schools, and Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). Degree and certificate programs in Machine Shop Technology, Machine Tool Technology, and Precision Systems Maintenance and Repair Technologies are offered at the community colleges.

Machinists also need mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, and good vision.


Most employers prefer to hire Machinists who are able to read, write, and speak English in order to understand instructions on the job and in the classroom, and to ensure personal and co-worker safety on the job. Workers must also be familiar with basic shop tools and machines. Some employers and local high schools have work-study programs that give students a chance to earn a salary while learning their jobs.

Early Career Planning

Helpful courses for high school students interested in Machinist work include mathematics (especially trigonometry), blueprint reading, metalworking, machine shop, drafting, and computer courses.

California offers Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). One such program is titled Basic Precision Machining. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.


Formal training for Machinists is gained through apprenticeship programs. During the apprenticeship, trainees will work 1,000 hours on the job in each of the eight periods of training in various participating machine shops. In addition to full-time pay, applicants will receive 200 hours of straight time pay per year to attend required instruction at a community college during off hours. This instruction, supplementing the training on the job, gives apprentices a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical aspects of their work.

Apprenticeship programs consist of shop training and classroom instruction lasting up to four years. In shop training, apprentices work almost full-time and are supervised by an experienced Machinist. Classroom instruction includes math, physics, materials science, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and quality and safety practices. As machine shops increase their use of computer-controlled equipment, training in the operation and programming of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools has become essential.

Apprenticeship classes are often taught in cooperation with local community or vocational colleges. Many Machinists learn the trade through two-year associate degree programs at local community or technical colleges. Graduates, however, still need significant on-the-job experience before they are fully qualified.

Continuing Education

As new automation is introduced and machine tools change in complexity and make-up, Machinists must learn new skills to keep up with new changes. Additional training is usually provided by a representative of the equipment manufacturer or a local technical school. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement for job-related courses.

Licensing and Certification

Machinists may hold one or several certificates such as Metalforming Level I, Machining Level I - Measurement, Materials and Safety Job, or Machining Level II - CNC Turning Certification. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Machine Shop, Machine Tool, Precision, and Machinist.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Machinists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing40.1%
Machinery Manufacturing11.3%
Aerospace Product & Parts Manufacturing8.2%
Employment Services4.9%
Semiconductor and Electronic Components3.8%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers and registering with local unions remains one of the most effective job search methods. Job seekers can look on employer Web sites for job openings or get job leads through their school career center or professional association. Newspaper classified ads and Internet job listings also provide a helpful resource for local job openings.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Machinists.

  • Machine Shops
  • Machine Tools
  • Machinery-Repairing

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Experienced Machinists can advance to machine tool programmers, supervisory or administrative positions in their firms, tool and die makers, mold makers, or may open their own shops. In some machine shops, experienced Machinists are eligible to participate in employer-sponsored skills upgrading programs and progress to full journey-level status.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Machinists with links to more information.

Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and PlasticProfile
Mechanical Engineering TechniciansProfile
Sheet Metal WorkersGuide
Tool and Die MakersGuide
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and BrazersGuide

Other Sources

  • National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA)
  • National Tooling and Machining Association – Los Angeles
  • Precision Machine Products Association
  • Precision Metalforming Association Educational Foundation
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification51-4041
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Machine Tool Technology/Machinist 480501
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Machining and Machine Tools095630