Think of machine operators like the pit crew and the driver in a Formula 1 race, all rolled into one. While one hand's on the wheel, the other's under the hood. Does that sound like you?

Today, while some machine operators have also gone digital — controlling various equipment, machines and tools through computer interfaces — many others remain focused on maintaining and operating physical equipment in person. Still others have taken on new titles (“Machinist,” “Production Machine Operator,” “Mechanical Machine Operator,” “Toolsmith” and so on), despite holding the same day-to-day duties.

Regardless, what all have in common is the expert ability to install, set up, run, operate, maintain and fix relevant machines in a variety of work settings.

What are the key responsibilities of machine operators? Here are a few:

  • setting up, operating and proactively maintaining heavy machinery
  • ensuring the quality of machine operations — as well as the quality of related throughput
  • monitoring operations of machinery

Daily tasks assigned to machine operators may include:

  • coordinating manufacturing and production schedules with supervisors
  • ensuring optimal performance and speed of relevant machines, and adjusting machine settings accordingly
  • overseeing machine operations — and troubleshooting to circumvent potential issues
  • quality checking, maintenance and repairs
  • extrusion, press operation, molding, monitoring, tending and more
  • educating and training coworkers on machine-related performance requirements as well as core maintenance activities

how do you become a machine operator?

While there are any number of different ways to become a successful machine operator today, probably the most reliable is to begin with an apprenticeship. Several years in length, mixing on-the-job and classroom learning, apprenticeships often culminate in accredited certifications, too, which means that you'll be ready to hit the ground running once you wrap it up. Better yet, "earn while you learn" models are common, as well.

Looking to find the right apprenticeship for you? A few smart places to start:

  • Check with the appropriate union for machine operators in your area.
  • Inquire at your local community college.
  • Search for machine operator jobs on job boards.

Finally, it's worth noting that, for machine operators who work with especially heavy equipment, additional certification from various trade groups is mandatory in many states. Crane operators, for example, are required to be certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO). But the good news is that a lot of these certifications can be completed either partially or wholly online.

what are the key skills of a machine operator?

Machine operators must have diverse skill sets, as they work with a range of people in daily operations: clients, suppliers, onsite production workers and more. Beyond technical aptitude and qualifications, therefore, core communication skills are a huge plus for machine operators.

What’s more, all sorts of soft skills are sought-after in machine operators as well. Those skills include:

  • native technical aptitude or understanding of machinery and equipment
  • attention to detail
  • written and verbal communication skills
  • self-motivated
  • safety mindset
  • troubleshooting
  • quality- and control-oriented

Not 100 percent clear on the hard-versus-soft-skills distinction? No worries — this article covers everything you need to know.

what's the pay rate for a machine operator?

Hourly wages for machine operators range from $16.86 to $23.38, with a national average just north of $20 per hour. However, with so much disruption in the manufacturing and logistics spaces on account of COVID-19, salaries for machine operators can be hard to predict — and like a lot of things, they're very much in flux right now. Your best bet for getting insights in that context? Use our free salary comparison tool, which should help you uncover at-a-glance data about pay rates across roles and markets. Plus, it's always up to date with the latest figures — so you can rest assured that you're always accessing timely and accurate information.

key takeaways

At this point, you should be pretty well versed in what machine operators do on a daily basis, as well as what it takes to become one. After all, in this article, we've broken down:

  • what machine operators do
  • background, training, experience and other requirements
  • key skills
  • salary
  • and more

That's it! Now, it's time for you to take action and start searching for machine operator positions near you, or seek out the relevant qualifications you need to make the cut. Looking for more insights into the changing world of industrial work? Click here for more informative overviews of jobs in the manufacturing and logistics space, including actionable guidance on next steps to make the next move in your career.