Lathe operators work with machines that create individual parts and other items out of raw materials such as steel, wood and plastic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average wage for this occupation as of 2014 is $37,360 per year. The highest paying industries for lathe operators are aerospace and glass products and parts manufacturing, with an average salary of $46,980 per year.
Education and Certification
The minimum education requirement for lathe operators is usually a high school diploma. Organizations such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills provide training that leads to earning credentials in the field, with several programs to develop lathe skills. NIMS also accredits other courses and scholastic programs that teach prospective lathe operators, ensuring that coursework meets industry standards. Apprenticeships pair experienced lathe operators with those new to the industry, so that newcomers get hands-on experience. Apprenticeships and certification are not necessary to obtain a job as a lathe operator, although some employers may prefer to hire people with credentials and prior experience.
Basic Training and Duties
Lathe operators without previous experience or training get on-the-job training. Duties include feeding materials into the machine, stopping and starting the crafting process and removing the finished product from the lathe. As an operator becomes more experienced, training expands to include complex tasks such as altering the speed that the material enters the lathe, changing bits on the machine and performing quality control inspections of the finished product.
Advanced Lathe Operator Duties
In addition to the basic job duties, advanced lathe operators work with computers that operate the lathe machine. This involves downloading computer programs for different manufacturing processes into the machine's code and altering the shaping process of the lathe. Lathe operators also perform tests to ensure that the process is running correctly.
Work Environment and Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, metal and plastic machine workers will experience a decline, with employment shrinking by 6 percent between 2012 and 2022. Overall, this translates to a loss of 59,100 jobs in the industry during this decade. Lathe operators able to use computer-numerically controlled technology will have the best job prospects.The majority of lathe operators work in factories of varying size. Because of the high-powered machines that carve the materials, lathe operators need to pay close attention to their surroundings and wear safety equipment like goggles, steel-toed boots and earplugs to reduce the risk of injury.