Machine Operator, CNC Operator, and CNC Machinist – What are the differences?

Apr 26, 2019

So, you are looking for a job in the manufacturing industry? Odds are, on your search you have come across the following positions: Machine Operator, CNC Machine Operator, and CNC Machinist.

Tilting your head, like your puppy Bowser, you say to yourself, “I’m confused, what is the difference?!”

You’ve heard of each of these jobs, but cannot tell what differentiates one from the other

Which is what ultimately led you to this article. All of these jobs may sound similar, but there is a distinct difference between the three and we are here to clear things up.

What Is A Machine Operator?

To succeed as a Machine Operator, you need to have the skills and training to set up, run, and do basic maintenance on production equipment. Depending on the job, to qualify for a Machine Operator position, you must have some on-the-job experience, or have obtained training from a technical school. Job skills that may be necessary to be a machine operator include the ability to:

  • Read measuring tape, gauges, and calipers
  • Follow work orders
  • Perform safety inspections on production machines
  • Monitor product quality
  • Fill out paperwork

Most employers who are hiring for machine operator jobs are looking for candidates who have a high school diploma or GED, basic math and reading skills, ability to work in a fast-paced environment (either alone or with a team), flexibility to cross train and multitask, and the skills to communicate well with supervisors and co-workers.

What Does A CNC Machine Operator Do?

Now, the job duties of a CNC Machine Operator are similar to what a general machine operator does, except that they specialize in a specific type of machine- Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines to be specific. A Computer Numerical Controlled machine is a type of equipment usually found in the metalworking industry in which pre-programmed computer software controls how the machine tools operate.  This precision machinery cuts, grinds, drills, or shapes different types of materials, from metal to plastic and more.

A CNC Machine Operator is largely responsible for programming commands for these machines and making sure that the commands work properly and achieve the desired results.

Other job duties include:

  • Translate the requirements of detailed part drawings into measurements for production
  • Set-up and calibration of equipment and accessories
  • Load and unload equipment and materials
  • Log and record readings for equipment and procedures
  • Follow company safety protocol
  • Equipment maintenance and cleaning
  • Ensure machine procedures are done in accordance with guidelines of company
  • Inspecting finished products

CNC Machine Operators are detail-oriented, should be able to perform price mathematic calculations, and have strong computer, problem-solving, and multi-tasking skills.

What Is A CNC Machinist

Like a CNC Machine Operator, CNC Machinists also work with Computer Numerical Controlled machines; both positions work to set-up and operate CNC machines and equipment.

The differences are, a CNC Machinist (sometimes referred to as a CNC set-up operator), have additional duties which include: programming, quality control, fixing mechanical errors, and supervising or managing other CNC Operators.

CNC Machinists typically have more experience than a CNC machine operator but do perform the same primary responsibilities and tasks.

CNC Machining is a skilled industrial job that requires specialized training. Many technical schools and community colleges offer classes in that can help you develop the skills you need to succeed as a CNC Machinist.

To be a successful CNC Machinist, you must know how to:

  • Operate machine tools for drilling, turning, milling and grinding
  • Knowledge of the working properties of metal
  • Programming and basic set up of CNC machines
  • Blueprint reading
  • Math skills
  • Standard shop practices
  • Ability to read gauges and calipers
  • Some jobs also require several years of CNC machining experience.

If you, or someone you know, have the skills and experience necessary for a job as a Machine Operator, CNC Operator, or CNC Machinist, let Friday Services help achieve your goals!

Friday Services makes it easy to find the right job at all stages of your career. Our team specializes in placing job seekers in all types of manufacturing jobs in Western North Carolina, including all the above types of work.

We have built relationships with some of the leading manufacturers, distribution centers, and other industrial employers in our region and we know what skills and experience they are looking for. We will do the hard work necessary to match you with an employer, and a job that will be right for your skills and experience. To get started, fill out our online job application or contact us.


If you see a lot of potential in yourself – so do we! Start your job search and learn about the opportunities and benefits offered.


Friday Services is independent and locally owned. We offer Western North Carolina employers strategic flexibility with greater attention to detail.