CNC programmer

CNC operator CNC setter CNC machinist computer numerically controlled programmer

Career outlook for CNC programmer

UK Salary Ranges





Currently employed in Scotland


Salary information is provided by the "National Careers Service". "Oxford Economics" supplies job forecasts and employment figures. Due to COVID-19 the jobs market is constantly changing. Some of the information may not reflect the current situation.

What's it like?

CNC (computer numerically controlled) programmers set up and operate the machines that might cut, drill, stamp, grind and laser different materials for manufacturing purposes. 

The machines can be used to make parts for vehicle and aerospace, furniture, military equipment and much more. 

The machines are programmed to tell them exactly what they need to do to manipulate the metal or other material. You might write the directions or use technical drawings to programme the machine with the data. 

You’d use technical and design knowledge to identify what the machine needs to do and then you’d operate the machine and set the appropriate functionalities (cutting speed, for example) to create the end product. 

What you'll do

  • Use instructions or technical drawings to set-up the CNC machines 
  • Write the program to tell the machine what it needs to do 
  • Decide which tools are needed for each project 
  • Check the quality of the items produced 
  • Adjust the tools and machinery if necessary 
  • Clean and maintain the machines regularly 
  • Set-up any hand-controlled machinery correctly 
  • Control cutting speeds on the machine 

Working conditions


You’ll likely work normal hours from 9am until 5pm on weekdays, but this depends on the organisation.


You might work in workshop or a factory.

UK employment status





Self employed


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  • Attention to detail

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.

Foundation Apprenticeships

Choosing a Foundation Apprenticeship as one of your subjects in S5 and S6 can help you get a head start with this type of job.

You'll get an SCQF level 6 qualification (the same level as a Higher) plus valuable work placement experience and skills you can't learn in a classroom.

Interested? Find out what's on offer at your school on


There are a number of ways to get qualified for this job through college, university or work-based qualifications, such as apprenticeships.

You'll be using software and coding languages in order to create programs to run the most effective manufacturing process – to do this effectively, you'd benefit from:

  • Understanding manufacturing processes
  • Having the ability to read and interpret engineering drawings

This knowledge and experience could be gained through a variety of sources such as college or university courses in areas such as:

  • Engineering systems/practice (manufacture)
  • Mechanical and manufacturing engineering
  • Computer aided design and technology
  • Software engineering


You can gain skills and qualifications in the workplace through options such as Foundation Apprenticeships (FA), Modern Apprenticeships (MA) and Graduate Apprenticeships (GA).

Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs) are chosen as one of your subjects in S5 and S6 but include hands-on learning at a local employer or college. They are the same level as a Higher.

You might want to consider an FA in areas such as:

  • IT: Software development
  • Engineering

Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) mean you learn on the job. You get paid and work towards a qualification at the same time.

You might want to consider an MA in areas such as:

  • Engineering technical

Graduate Apprenticeships (GAs) are designed for industry and you'll spend most of your time learning on the job but you'll also go to uni or college. You'll get a job, get paid and work towards a qualification at the same time.

You might want to consider a GA in areas such as:

  • Engineering: design and manufacture
  • IT: Software development

Useful subjects

Many colleges and universities will have required subjects that you must have for entry. They might also highlight additional subjects that they would value. Look at individual institution websites for specific entry information.  

Useful subjects would be:

  • Maths focussed subjects
  • ICT related subjects
  • English
  • Design and technology

Helpful to have

Not all employers list specific qualification requirements they might ask for relevant experience, usually work based, that demonstrate a range of transferable skills.

It is useful to have knowledge of CAD format models such as IGES and STEP.

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