Machine shop workers use machinery, such as lathes and grinders, to make metal parts. These workers are usually called machinists, and receive training in the working properties of metal and machine tools so they are able to create precise metal parts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 421,500 machine shop workers employed in the United States in 2008. Employment is expected to decline in the coming years, as new technology reduces the number of workers needed.
Machine shop workers begin by consulting blueprints or job specs. They then determine where they must cut into the metal and choose the necessary tools, which may include a drill press, milling machine or lathe. Machinists next position the piece on the machine and cut according to their plans. As they work, they must be aware of how fast they are feeding the metal into the machine and check to see if it is correctly lubricated. Some machinists may specialize in making one specific part for new machines, while others are responsible for repairing parts for pre-existing machinery.
Individuals who are interested in working at a machine shop should takes classes in trigonometry, geometry, metalworking and drafting in high school. Some positions may require knowledge of physics and calculus as well. Students should also have computer training since many of the tools and machinery in a machine shop are computerized. Many machinists receive their training on the job. Others participate in apprenticeship programs that are sponsored by manufacturers or unions. Apprentices receive both classroom instruction and paid on-the-job training. Students work with experienced machinists who train them in how to operate machine shop tools. They also take classes in math, materials science, physics, computers and mechanical drawing. Some community colleges also offer training programs for machinists, which usually take two years to complete and result in an associate's degree.
Machine shops are usually well-ventilated and many of the machines are enclosed, so workers are not subject to debris, noise or other irritants. Machinists are still required to wear protective gear, however, including safety glasses and earplugs. Individuals who work in a machine shop must be in good physical condition because they must stand for long periods and lift heavy items. Most machinists work standard 40-hour weeks, though some may be required to work nights and weekends as well. During heavy production periods, machine shop workers may also be required to work overtime.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wages of machine shop workers were $17.41 as of May 2008. The highest 10 percent were paid more than $26.60, while the lowest 10 percent were paid less than $10.79. The middle 50 percent were paid between $13.66 and $21.85.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment for machine shop workers will decline by 5 percent between 2008 and 2018. Competition from foreign manufacturers and advances in technology that help increase worker productivity are the main factors in the decline. There will still be opportunities for qualified machinists because openings will result as experienced workers retire or leave the field.