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Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Job opportunities and advancement can be enhanced by becoming certified in a particular machine skill. There are many trade groups that offer certification for machine operators and setup workers, and certifications vary greatly depending upon the skill level involved. Certifications may allow operators and setters to switch jobs more easily because they can prove their skills to a potential employer.

Advancement usually takes the form of higher pay and a wider range of responsibilities. With experience and expertise, workers can become trainees for more highly skilled positions; for instance, it is common for machine operators to move into setup or machinery maintenance positions. Setup workers may also move into maintenance, machinist, or tool and die maker roles. Skilled workers with good communication and analytical skills can move into supervisory positions.

Machine setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic held about 1.0 million jobs in 2008. About 9 out of 10 jobs were found in manufacturing—primarily in fabricated metal products, plastics and rubber products, primary metal, machinery, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to decline rapidly. Those who can operate multiple machines will have the best opportunities for advancement and for gaining jobs with more long-term potential.

Job Growth
Employment in the various machine setter, operator, and tender occupations is expected to decline rapidly by 13 percent from 2008 to 2018. Employment will be affected by technological advances, changing demand for the goods they produce, foreign competition, and the reorganization of production processes.

One of the most important factors influencing employment change in this occupation is the implementation of labor-saving machinery. Many firms are adopting new technologies, such as computer-controlled machine tools and robots in order to improve quality, lower production costs, and remain competitive. The switch to computer-controlled machinery requires the employment of computer control programmers and operators instead of machine setters, operators and tenders. The lower-skilled manual machine tool operators and tenders jobs are more likely to be eliminated by these new technologies, because the functions they perform may be more effectively completed with computer-controlled machinery.

The demand for machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic is also affected by the demand for the parts they produce. Both the plastic and metal manufacturing industries face stiff foreign competition that is limiting the demand for domestically produced parts. Some domestic firms have outsourced their production to foreign countries, which has limited employment of machine setters and operators. Another way domestic manufacturers compete with low-wage foreign competition is by increasing their use of automated systems, which can make manufacturing establishments more competitive by improving their productivity. This increased automation also limits employment growth.

Despite the overall projected employment decline, a number of machine setter, operator, and tender jobs will become available because of an expected surge in retirements, primarily baby boomers, in the coming years. Workers with a thorough background in machine operations, certifications from industry associations, exposure to a variety of machines, and a good working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics will be better able to adjust to the changing environment. In addition, new shop-floor arrangements will reward workers with good basic mathematics and reading skills, good communication skills, and the ability and willingness to learn new tasks. As workers adapt to team-oriented production methods, those who can operate multiple machines will have the best opportunities for advancement and for gaining jobs with more long-term potential.

Wages for machine operators can vary by size of the company, union status, industry, and skill level and experience of the operator. Also, temporary employees, who are being hired in greater numbers, usually get paid less than permanently employed workers.

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