What does a machine operator do?

Essentially, a machine operator is any professional who operates a machine. This job position has many titles, including machinist and equipment operator. Being a machine operator is similar to being a mechanic. However, in addition to working with individual bits of equipment, you'll also be the one ensuring the machine is in good operating condition and able to fulfill its daily tasks.

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Machine operator roles

Machine operator types

Once you decide to become a machine operator, you'll usually need to pick a product to specialize in. The typical machine operator will focus on one type of equipment like a forklift or crane. You'll also have the option of specializing in an industry. Some operators choose to work in fields like shipping, food production, or healthcare.

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What is the average salary of a machine operator?

If you decide to become a machine operator, you are able to get a very respectable salary. The average machine operator makes around $35,900 per year. Some machine operators make as little as $28,600 or as much as $45,000, though. Many companies offer bonuses for machine operators. Depending on the bonus structure, you'll get an extra $1,000 or so each year.

Factors that affect pay

If you want a higher-paying job, consider specializing in a specific type of machine. Operators who work on more complicated machines get higher paychecks. You can also improve your pay by working in fields with special guidelines. For example, if you work with machines in the medical field, knowing how to follow sanitization guidelines will boost your paycheck. Another factor that impacts your paycheck is the hours you work. If you're willing to work overnight or long shifts, you're more likely to command a higher hourly rate.


Working as a machine operator

Are you a mechanically minded person who loves brainteasers? Being a machine operator gives you a great chance to work with your hands and flex your logical problem-solving skills. To figure out if you'd enjoy this job, it's helpful to know what the typical day as a machine operator looks like.

What are the responsibilities of a machine operator?

Basically, all of your responsibilities focus on keeping machines running. There are a lot of different skills you'll need to use to fulfill this responsibility.

Operating machines

You'll handle heavy equipment and decide how machines can achieve company goals. Instead of just following basic instructions, you'll usually need to work independently. Your job includes scheduling machine usage and deciding which machines are right for which tasks. For example, your boss might tell you they need several storage containers moved to another warehouse. Then it would be your job to figure out how to use the cranes or forklifts to finish this task.

Repairing and maintaining machines

Machine operators are more than just equipment users. They're also responsible for keeping the machines running smoothly. Some machines will require you to perform regular maintenance like tightening fittings or adding oil. If a machine breaks down, you'll be the person who examines it. Most machine operators handle repairs themselves, but you'll also need to recognize when you need to call in a professional repair person.

Following safety standards

The machines you would operate are typically pieces of equipment that the average person cannot handle safely. You'll have the important task of keeping your co-workers safe. It will be your duty to learn about all safety regulations for your industry and equipment. You'll need to make changes and implement rules to avoid accidents.

What type of equipment do machine operators use?

Machine operators usually need to be comfortable working with a broad range of tools. In addition to basics like hammers, drills, and levels, there's a chance you'll work with welding torches, saws, and other power equipment.

Heavy equipment

You'll use your tools to handle a variety of heavy equipment. While some employers use basic construction vehicles, others involve specialized industrial items. Some common examples of heavy equipment include:

  • Cranes
  • Assemblers
  • Forklifts
  • Production machinery
  • Moving scaffolding
  • Milling machines
  • Drill rigs


As a machine operator, you'll also need to make complex calculations on occasion. Many machine operators use scientific calculators, designing software, and other technology to help them do their job.

What is the work environment of a machine operator?

There's a lot of variation among job sites, so you do have the opportunity of looking for an environment that suits your needs. The average machine operator works in a manufacturing plant, warehouse, factory, or workshop. However, if you prefer to work outdoors, there are also some jobs at construction sites, shipyards, and other similar spots. Most jobs will have you working in a temperature-controlled environment, but some worksites can be unusually hot or cold.

Who are your colleagues as a machine operator?

You'll get to work alongside a wide range of interesting people. Your co-workers will be both white-collar and blue-collar employees. Most of the colleagues you'll be working with will be other machine operators or various supervisors at the company. Part of your job may include presenting reports to managers or communicating with other departments. However, you will also interact with many of the general workers at the company on a daily basis. You'll need to do things like discuss machine routines or figure out how to route machines around other workers. Though you may collaborate with others occasionally, you will often plan projects and work on them by yourself.

What is the work schedule of a machine operator?

Being a machine operator is usually a full-time job. You will find some small companies that want part-time help, but the majority of companies will want you to work at least 40 hours a week. In many cases, you'll also have the option of working overtime.

What time are your shifts?

Machinists need to be present at all times to help keep equipment running in factories or production plants that run nonstop. In these cases, you'll have a lot of shift options. Many machine operators work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 5 p.m. to midnight, or midnight to 8 a.m. However, some companies let you work longer shifts of around 12 hours.


What is the career outlook for a machine operator?

Being a machine operator is a reliable job that gives you plenty of opportunities for advancement. Many current machine operators are set to retire soon, but there is still high demand for these workers. Experts predict plenty of new jobs for machine operators in the future. They predict that there will be a 7% growth for machine operating jobs in the next 10 years. As you get more experience, it is possible to apply for higher-paying jobs with more responsibilities.

The future of machine operators

In the future, many manufacturing and industrial workplaces will shift toward automation. This will provide a lot of exciting opportunities for operators who are comfortable working with technology. A couple of decades from now, this job will likely encourage employees to spend a lot of time helping machines follow various software instructions. However, many manufacturing and processing companies are slow to revolutionize their workplaces. Therefore, there will still be plenty of positions for those who are comfortable working on older machines.

What are the advantages of working with Spherion as a machine operator?

When you're looking for machine operator jobs, Spherion makes it easier to get the right job for your talents. Working with Spherion opens the door to a wider range of machine operator job opportunities. You’ll have access to a recruiter who understands what you’re looking for and will work on finding the best career match for you. You’ll benefit from:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Weekly paychecks
  • Networking prospects
  • Training opportunities

What education do you need as a machine operator?

The education level you need will depend on the job. The typical machinist doesn't need more formal education than a high school diploma. However, they need to know quite a lot about how machines work. Many jobs ask you to have training from a vocational school or an apprenticeship. For some jobs, you'll also benefit from having certifications for handling hazardous materials or safety equipment. Depending on the place you work, you'll need to have specific knowledge of certain machine brands. Some industries will also require applicants to have training on certain programs like Excel.

Skills & competencies

You'll need a lot of knowledge of heavy machinery operation to succeed at this job. Machinists need to have a lot of mechanical know-how and be comfortable working with tools, engines, and other complex equipment. Being a machine operator is also about being able to work with others. You'll need to be able to accept directions and coordinate tasks with co-workers. It will also be important to have good communication skills so you can easily explain complex industry ideas to those with little understanding of machines. 

Finally, machine operators need some basic computer, mathematical, and engineering skills. They'll have to do things like interpret blueprints, calculate dimensions, and work from process sheets.



If you want a job that is active but challenges you intellectually, machine operator is a great choice! Learn the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a machine operator below.

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