The industrial and manufacturing sector in the U.S. has undergone a renaissance over the past decade. Automation technology has breathed new life into vocational work. Unmet demand for technically savvy workers in the industrial sector has taken on the narrative of a skills gap in manufacturing. A study by Delloite reveals this skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled from 2018-2028.
One of the areas most affected by a shortage of skilled workers is in CNC machinery. Production in many modern factories use Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machine tools—presses, lathes, grinders, mills and drills that fabricate metals and plastics using digitized instruction sets. CNC machines are used to manufacture complex parts for medical devices, vehicle and aerospace equipment, HVAC and refrigeration machinery, premium home furnishings and electronics, among many other things.
Generally, careers using CNC machine tools progress down a few different paths. A student with a high school diploma can be workforce-ready using CNC machine tools as soon as after a year of training. Some companies offer apprentice programs wherein entry level workers learn alongside industry professionals for a set number of hours—usually 10,000 hours completed over 3-5 years—wherein they learn all the operations and specialize themselves in the particular type of CNC shop where they work.
Most companies prefer to fill CNC machinist jobs with candidates that have 1-3 years of past experience or have completed an apprenticeship. A typical salary starts at around $40,000 per year, and tops out at around $65,000 annually with 3-5 years of experience.
Compensation for experienced CNC Programmers is competitive and starts around $70,000 per year, and can reach over $100,000 in annual salary near the top of the range.
CNC manufacturing engineers are sometimes called process engineers. The work involves research and design conducted in the development of manufacturing processes. In that regard, project management skills and mindset are favorable attributes for a candidate—especially if he or she has experience in the project management methodology of choice of the company looking to fill the position.
Manufacturing engineers often deal with clientele, supervisors, and other engineers, so the role requires a higher degree of business acumen. Engineers must manage deadlines, budgetary constraints, and employ problem-solving and troubleshooting skills. The workday is split between the shop floor and an office setting.
CNC engineering commands a lucrative salary especially with some experience. A mechanical engineer starts out making around $70,000 annually. After three years of experience, engineers with a background in CNC can earn a salary well over $100,000, ranging to $140,000 in coastal markets.