What Does a Machine Operator Do? Duties, Skills and Salary

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 September 2022 | Published 8 November 2021

Updated 22 September 2022

Published 8 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A machine operator is someone who safely uses large equipment to load materials, transport heavy objects and manufacture products. They also maintain the machines and conduct safety inspections to identify potential hazards and remedy them before operating the equipment. If you're interested in becoming a machine operator, learning more about where they work and what they do can be beneficial. In this article, we explain what machine operators do, describe important skills they need, detail their work environment, review their average salary and provide helpful tips you can use to become one.

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What does a machine operator do?

Learning the answer to 'what does a machine operator do?' can help you determine if you want to become one. Machine operators use equipment, including compactors, milling machines, grinders and lathes. They may use computer programs to assist in operation or guide the machines manually, depending on where they work. A machine operator is an important part of the production process in many manufacturing and production plants, even when many processes are automatic. The operator promotes safety and provides efficient solutions for common mechanical or technical errors. These are some tasks a machine operator may manage during a typical day:

  • Maintain machinery: By changing oil, inspecting worn parts and providing regular maintenance, operators ensure equipment functions without error during production.

  • Prepare machinery: Operators inspect the equipment to ensure it's safe before operations. They also align and centre some equipment to ensure they cut and grind properly.

  • Monitor training: Experienced operators teach new hires how to manage equipment, which hazards to monitor for, how to start and power down equipment and how computer programs integrate with manufacturing.

  • Operate machinery: Some tools and machines require manual operation through the use of levers and handles, and the operator may physically operate them.

  • Evaluate machine efficiency: Operators can monitor the production of each machine to detect when malfunctions occur or determine if maintenance may improve production.

  • Learn new machines: When new technologies arrive for manufacturing and production, operators learn how to use, maintain and repair them.

  • Perform quality assurance: After creating parts or products, the operator may check materials to ensure they are high-quality and free of errors.

Related: What Is a Compliance Officer? Definition and Career Guide

Requirements for being a machine operator

The path to becoming a machine operator can differ depending on your career and educational goals. Each employer requires different qualifications, licences and certifications for their operators depending on the equipment they work with and their experience. These are some requirements for becoming a machine operator:

Education

Many employers require that their machine operators have at least a secondary education. Depending on your career and educational goals, you may choose to attend a trade school or take courses on machinery and mechanics to further your career. You may also consider completing certifications that can improve your safety and show your skills to potential employers.

Training

Machine operators often attend training before using machines independently. This can include working with experienced machine operators and learning about the equipment before using it. Many operators take part in continuing training through annual reviews, educational sessions and new equipment orientations.

Skills

Though operators can focus on and specialise in different equipment, they often have many of the same skills. Machine operators affect the safety and efficiency within production centres, so it's important for them to develop reliable skills. These are some important skills for machine operators:

Leadership

Leadership is a culmination of many skills that allows a person to effectively guide a team. It's important for machine operators because it allows them to train new team members and provide guidance to their current staff members. Effective leadership is important for promoting safety and ensuring compliance when working with heavy machinery. To develop your leadership skills, you can practise discipline, learn to motivate and inspire and focus on conflict resolution.

Read more: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Problem-solving

Problem-solving is the ability to assess a situation, identify the cause of a problem and efficiently offer potential solutions. This is important for operators, as they often provide maintenance to equipment when errors occur. They may identify broken parts or determine which point in a system a problem occurs to remedy it and resume production. To develop your problem-solving abilities, you can focus on solutions rather than issues and improve collaboration.

Read more: Problem-Solving Skills Examples (With Steps to Develop Them)

Mechanical skills

A basic understanding of mechanics and how machines operate is important for successful operators. This allows them to use machines in a way that optimises them for resources while avoiding common repair issues caused by misuse. Mechanical skills are also important because the operator uses them to quickly identify the cause of an error or issue and find a workable solution. To improve mechanical skills, operators can practise with household objects, watch videos online or read relevant literature like repair manuals.

Time management

Time management is the ability to prioritise tasks and ensure the team can finish important projects by their due date. Those who are skilled in time management can improve efficiency and optimise production. This can be important for machine operators, as they may manage several pieces of equipment at once by using computer programs, monitoring maintenance schedules and manually controlling them. To improve time management, you can invest in a planner, focus on productivity and take advantage of technology that allows you to develop accountability.

Read more: Time Management Skills: Examples and Improvement Strategies

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is important for machine operators because they monitor machines for proper function and safety. Operators inspect the machine and its surroundings to check for potential safety hazards, and attention to detail allows them to notice minor hazard indicators, like a small puddle of water or unplugged wire. Great attention to detail can improve the team's safety and improve the function of the machines. To improve your attention to detail, you can focus on slowing down processes and reducing distractions like phones and televisions.

Read more: How to Improve Attention To Detail Skills

Physical fitness

Depending on the employer and on what the operator does, they may be on their feet for long periods of time. They can perform physical exertion like standing, walking, kneeling and lifting heavy objects. Some machines can be difficult to control and require physical upper-body strength. To improve physical fitness and health, the operator can take frequent breaks and invest in strength training outside of work.

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Communication

Many machine operators work in teams with other professionals to complete their work. Communication is important because it allows the operator to function efficiently and safely. For example, if the operator notices a hazard near a machine, or senses something is wrong, they can communicate that effectively to their team members and avoid an incident or accident. To improve your communication, you can focus on active listening and using positive body language.

Related: How to Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Machine operator work environment

Many machine operators work in warehouses and manufacturing plants, using their machines to create products and materials. They can experience exposure to different hazards depending on the machines they operate. Operators may spend long periods of time standing, walking and lifting heavy objects. The operator can often choose their hours, and some may choose to work overnight shifts when differentials are available.

Related: Job Description for Construction Workers: Duties and Skills

Average salary for machine operator

How much an operator can earn depends on where they live, their experience, skills, where they work and their education. The average base salary for a machine operator is $1,866 per month. Some machine operators may earn additional certifications or licences to increase their earning potential.

Related: What Is Net Salary: Definition and Guide to Calculating Net Salary

Tips for becoming a machine operator

These are some helpful tips you can use to become a machine operator:

  • Earn safety certifications: Depending on where you work, earning various safety certifications can improve your performance, reduce accidents and offer the opportunity for increased pay. Communicate with your employer about potential financial assistance or preferred certifications for you to complete.

  • Gain machinery experience: Before becoming a machine operator, consider gaining machinery experience through trade school, courses or other entry-level experience. This can help you develop the physical strength and knowledge to be successful as an operator.

  • Study mechanical design: By examining household objects, working on vehicles or studying material on mechanical processes, you can learn more about how machines function. Understanding mechanical design and learning more about the various components can improve your ability to operate and maintain various equipment.

  • Learn different machines: If you have the opportunity, learning to operate different equipment in the workplace can improve your skills and expand your knowledge. You can also add these tasks to your application materials to show future employers the broad range of machinery that you understand.

Related: What Does a Machinist Do? (Essential Skills and Steps)

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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