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Computer Control Programmers and Operators - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Computer control programmers and operators can advance in several ways. Experienced CNC operators may become CNC programmers or machinery mechanics, and some are promoted to supervisory or administrative positions in their firms. Some highly skilled workers move into tool and die making, and a few open their own shops.

Employment
Computer control programmers and operators held about 157,800 jobs in 2008. About 90 percent were computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic, and about 10 percent were numerical tool and process control programmers. The manufacturing industry employs almost all these workers. Employment was concentrated in fabricated metal products manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, plastics products manufacturing, and transportation equipment manufacturing making mostly aerospace and automobile parts. Although computer control programmers and operators work in all parts of the country, jobs are most plentiful in the areas where manufacturing is concentrated.

Job Outlook
Despite the projected increase in employment, applicants are expected to face competition for jobs, as there are more trained workers than available jobs.

Job Growth
Overall employment of computer control programmers and operators is expected to increase by 4 percent over the 200818 period, which is slower than average for all occupations. Employment of computer controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic is expected to increase by 7 percent, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The increasing use of CNC machine tools in all sectors of the manufacturing industry, replacing older mechanical metal and plastic working machines, will increase demand for computer-controlled machine tool operators. However, the demand for computer control programmers will be negatively affected by the increasing use of software (CAD/CAM) that automatically translates part and product designs into CNC machine tool instructions, and by simpler interfaces that allow machine operators to program the machines themselves. As a result, employment of numerical tool and process control programmers will decline by 15 percent over the projection period.

Computer control programmers and operators may face competition for jobs, as many workers currently operating mechanical machines will be retrained to operate computer controlled machines and programming activities are increasingly done by these operators; however, workers with the ability to operate multiple CNC machine types should have better opportunities, as companies are increasingly demanding more versatile workers.

Earnings
Median hourly wages of computer-controlled machine tool operators, metal and plastic, were $16.03 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.83 and $19.45. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.49, whereas the top 10 percent earned more than $23.84.
Median hourly wages of numerical tool and process control programmers were $21.30 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $16.94 and $26.55. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13.65, while the top 10 percent earned more than $32.59.
Many employers, especially those with formal apprenticeship programs, offer tuition assistance for training classes.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Tool and Die Maker
The Tool and Die Maker Program teaches students how to make, repair and test dies, cutting tools, jigs, fixtures, gauges and special hand tools by laying out, setting-up, machining, fitting and finishing metal stock and castings.. A student can usually complete the Tool and Die Maker Program within ...more