CNC Machinists are hard to find or hold on to. Are wages important or are there other factors to consider? Supplier’s Phil Ashley looks at the problem and, with a little help from other professionals, comes up with a few answers.

I’ve been involved in the CNC training industry since 1986: that’s 30-years of playing with them, teaching them and interacting with industry about them. For a while now, manufacturers have complained about how hard it is to find a good CNC machinist or how difficult it is to keep the ones they already have. Certainly, the machinist’s wages are important, they don’t work for you if they can get more someplace else; but pay isn’t the only thing an employee thinks is important.

One of the things that people think about is their value to the company; what they are really worth and what management thinks about their contribution. Nowadays a CNC machine operator is considered a factory worker and that’s the way he/she feels. This diminishes the person’s self-esteem and they’ll look for something better. Many operators do the same thing every day and eventually this becomes the norm; they’ll usually start thinking about what else is out there around this time. You can’t expect a person with this attitude to work hard or put in their best effort.

A best effort is usually applied by a person with the opportunity for advancement. A best effort is getting the machine working as efficiently as it possibly can. As manager you might expect 70% actual machining time from your CNC machine, but you’re more likely getting half that. Let’s say your operator could achieve your expected output; you would be able to pay more, of course? If the machine output increases by 30%, surely the operator is worth an extra 10%, a small price to pay for a big dividend to you. Technology is your future but you need your people to take advantage of it.

Your CNC machinist needs to be well trained to improve production, not just work the machine. Maybe the operator should be low-skilled and your CNC machinist spends more time planning, using software and preparing for the next job. His/her work will be much more interesting and the probability is they will stay with you longer. You’re probably thinking: “This means two people?” But, if the machine is only working at half capacity, an extra low-skilled person could make a bigger difference than you think. If you can release your machinist from mundane loading and unloading, you might be able to think about setting up a manufacturing cell with several machines linked together. Your machinist should be happy managing that.

Sure, pay is important, everyone has to live, but it’s not the only issue.