Interested in a machinist career but not sure where to start? Train to be a machinist at one of these top programs and join a rapidly-expanding field with nearly-limitless possibilities.
What is a machinist?
A machinist is one of the classic blue-collar jobs. A machinist is any person who operates advanced machine tools as part of production line or small machine shop. Traditionally, the job wasn’t a glamorous one, requiring at least basic maths and a working knowledge of the physical properties of different materials. In the days of manually-operated machine tools, machinists spent long days tending noisy and sometimes-dangerous equipment, striving to produce consistently-cut parts with minimal variation.
Understandably, not many people are drawn to that kind of career today. While there are nearly 400,000 machinists across the USA today, the average wage is comparable to other low-income jobs; somewhere between $40-60k per year.
So why write an article outlining the best education programs to become a certified machinist?
Why Study Machining?
The answer lies in the growing adaptation of CNC technology.
Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, allows operators to program a set of operations into a CNC-equipped machine. Those instructions are incredibly precise, and can be as long and complicated as necessary. In contrast to manual machining, manufacturing companies can use CNC machine tools to automate and streamline their manufacturing processes.
With CNC machines, trained operators can oversee more than one machine and more than one operation at a time. And while traditional machinist jobs don’t command unusually high salaries, annual income for CNC machinists can be much higher.
Nearly any machine tool can be outfitted with CNC technology. Lathes, CNC mills, and routers are only the start. Machine tools from grinders to EDMs and 3D printers rely on similar technology, meaning that a trained CNC operator will never lack for potential tools.
Beginners just starting out with CNC machining are always encouraged to learn by doing – it’s hard to beat a good real-world internship or training program. But formal classroom instruction is also necessary to help understand some of the mechanics of machining. Metallurgy instruction can also help a budding machinist to gain extra insight into how metals work and how they respond to different cutting operations.
Six Top Machine Tool Programs
There are hundreds of universities and colleges across the United States that offer machinist training. Frequently, these courses will be offered as Machine Tool Technology courses, metallurgy courses, and of course CNC certification courses.
Settling on which course is clearly the best is nearly impossible. That said, here are several popular and well-regarded choices, along with two more unusual options that are well-worth considering. In each case, the end goal is to equip budding machinists to find the best CNC machinist jobs available.
It’s worth noting that the minimum requirements for almost all of these programs are quite low – usually just a basic high school education.
University of Cincinnati
It makes perfect sense that a city in the heartland of America – and American industry – would be the home of a well-regarded machine tool technology program. The university boasts a top reputation as one of the top 200 universities in the USA.
U. of C.’s course focuses on basics of mechanical engineering as well as familiarity with common machine tools. Graduates will be equipped to pursue careers in a number of industries, from aerospace to automotive.
Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
Thaddeus Stevens, a 19th-century statesman in Pennsylvania, invested heavily in educating the local workforce. That tradition lives on in the school that bears his name, where the emphasis remains on training and equipping workers to pursue relevant and rewarding careers.
The school’s Computer Integrated Machining program not only teaches students the basics of common machine tool operation, but also outfits them to handle the latest technologies. That includes CNC, Computer Assisted Design (CAD/CAM), and a number of other relevant techniques that are commonplace in today’s high-end manufacturing world. Thaddeus Stevens College is based in Pennsylvania, long a key player in American manufacturing and industry.
Lake Area Technical College
The American West is the home to a number of industries that still rely on the skills of trained machinists to find success in today’s markets. Lake Area Technical College is one school dedicated to equipping a modern workforce of trained machinists to meet that need.
Their flagship program is the Precision Machining E-Degree. A hybrid degree, designed to combine in-person education and remote learning, the machining e-degree is suited not just for young machinists but for people already in the workforce who might be looking to expand their knowledge. It’s also perfect for anyone interested in breaking into a new field while maintaining their current job.
The e-degree doesn’t skimp on hands-on learning, with required lab qualifications to ensure that students finish the program with more than just a theoretical knowledge. That includes training on CNC lathes and all the necessary information to become a skilled CNC programmer.
Rochester Institute of Technology
New York may not seem like a center of American manufacturing, but at least historically speaking, that was exactly the case. New England in general was home to many of the industries that built America, and several of the universities and training centers founded to support those efforts continue to train workers today.
Rochester Institute of Technology fits solidly in that mold. With a cutting-edge machine tool laboratory, RIT aims to teach students more than just the basics of machining. There are programs in mechanical engineering as well as an entire center dedicated to modern manufacturing solutions.
Pasadena City College
From east coast to west coast, American industries need employees fully trained to handle all the technology found in modern manufacturing solutions. For workers on the west coast, Pasadena City College offers a Machine Shop Technology degree.
The degree equips students to handle all the common CNC equipment and finish the degree as a complete CNC machine operator. There are also courses and certifications available within the degree to customize a student’s approach and skillset.
The school’s location in Pasadena, close to major Californian cities and manufacturing hubs, means that students can earn their degree in the middle of a prime market.
Your Local Community College
Wherever you live in the United States, the chances are very good that there’s a nearby technical school or community college. Several of the schools listed above are just that – local community schools with above-average programs. But while not every community college will have amazing programs, most will feature some sort of entry-level certification or basic mechanical engineering degree. They also have the advantages of being local and usually very affordable. For aspiring machinists, those factors may well prove to be decisive.
Never underestimate the potential of a completely-free, crowdsourced curriculum. There are thousands of how-to videos and machining tutorials available on YouTube, some as part of “official” courses, and others the work of skilled tradesmen or hobbyists. A YouTube education doesn’t come with a formal degree, but it offers dedicated students the possibility of complete customization. Learn techniques from accomplished machinists, follow along with endlessly repeatable step-by-step instructions, and even find resources that will introduce you to some of the deeper concepts behind modern machining.
YouTube can be even be used for CNC programming training. A “YouTube degree” may never appear on a job description, but the skills learned there can still help anyone become an experienced CNC machinist.
There’s a wealth of resources to learn modern machining techniques. Looking for a program? Consider what sort of resources you can afford to spend, and find a compatible program that will provide the training you need.