How to Become a Machinist or Tool and Die Maker
Machinists and tool and die makers must have a high school diploma or equivalent.
There are many different ways to become a machinist or tool and die maker. Machinists train in apprenticeship programs, vocational schools, or community or technical colleges, or on the job. To become a fully trained tool and die maker takes several years of technical instruction, as well as on-the-job training. Good math, problem-solving, and computer skills are important. A high school diploma is necessary.
Machinists and tool and die makers must have a high school diploma or equivalent. In high school, students should take math courses, especially trigonometry and geometry. They also should take courses in blueprint reading, metalworking, and drafting, if available.
Some advanced positions, such as those in the aircraft manufacturing industry, require the use of advanced applied calculus and physics. The increasing use of computer-controlled machinery requires machinists and tool and die makers to have basic computer skills before entering a training program.
Some community colleges and technical schools have 2-year programs that train students to become machinists. These programs usually teach design and blueprint reading, how to use a variety of welding and cutting tools, and the programming and function of computer-numerically controlled (CNC) machines.
Apprenticeship programs, typically sponsored by a manufacturer, are an excellent way to become a machinist or tool and die maker, but they are often hard to get into. Apprentices usually must have a high school diploma or equivalent, and most have taken algebra and trigonometry classes.
Apprenticeship programs consist of paid shop training and related technical instruction lasting several years. Apprenticeship classes often are taught in cooperation with local community colleges and vocational–technical schools.
A growing number of machinists and tool and die makers receive their technical training from community and technical colleges. In this setting, employees learn while employed by a manufacturer that supports the employee's training goals and provides the needed on-the-job training.
Apprentices usually work 40 hours per week and receive technical instruction during evenings. Trainees often begin as machine operators and gradually take on more difficult assignments. Machinists and tool and die makers must have good computer skills to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines. Some machinists become tool and die makers.
Even after completing a formal training program, tool and die makers still need years of experience to become highly skilled.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
To boost the skill level of machinists and tool and die makers and to create a more uniform standard of competency, a number of training facilities, state apprenticeship boards, and colleges offer certification programs. The Right Skills Now initiative, for example, is an industry-driven program that aims to align education pathways with career pathways.
Completing a recognized certification program provides machinists and tool and die makers with better job opportunities and helps employers judge the abilities of new hires.
Journey-level certification is available from state apprenticeship boards after completing an apprenticeship. Many employers recognize this certification, and it often leads to better job opportunities.
Analytical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must understand highly technical electronic and written blueprints, models, and specifications, so they can craft precision tools and metal parts.
Manual dexterity. The work of machinists and tool and die makers must be highly accurate. For example, machining parts may demand accuracy of .0001 inch, which requires workers’ precision, concentration, and dexterity.
Math and computer skills. Workers must have good math and computer skills to work with CAD/CAM technology, CNC machine tools, and computerized measuring machines.
Mechanical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must be mechanically inclined. They operate milling machines, lathes, grinders, laser and water cutting machines, wire electrical discharge machines, and other machine tools. They also may use a variety of hand tools and power tools.
Physical stamina. The ability to endure long periods of standing and performing repetitious movements is important for machinists and tool and die makers.
Technical skills. Machinists and tool and die makers must understand computerized measuring machines and metalworking processes, such as stock removal, chip control, and heat treating and plating.