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Numerical Control Tool Programmers

At a Glance

  • Write programs that control machine tools
  • Are similar to machinists
  • Work alone most of the time
  • May work evening and weekend shifts
  • Most complete a formal training program

Career summary

Numerical control tool programmers write programs that control machine tools.

#No alternate titles CJ

Numerical control tool programmers review blueprints to compute the size and position of the required cuts. Cuts may be linear, angular, or curved. The programmers determine the sequence of machine operations. This includes selecting tools and determining the machine speed and feed rates.

The programmer writes the computer program the machine uses to control the machining or processing of metal or plastic. Sometimes programmers and machinists work together to write a program. Programmers run a computer simulation to determine whether the program is functioning properly. They fix problems and re-test the program until all problems are solved. Programmers may modify existing programs rather than write each program from scratch.

Related careers

This career is part of the Manufacturing cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to numerical control tool programmers.

Common work activities

Numerical control tool programmers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, numerical control tool programmers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Numerical control tool programmers frequently:

It is important for numerical control tool programmers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for numerical control tool programmers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Numerical control tool programmers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a numerical control tool programmer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Most numerical control tool programmers learn their skills through formal training programs. Professional-technical schools and two-year colleges offer programs in manufacturing technology. These programs teach machine operations, automation, and computer skills. One-year programs award a certificate. Two-year programs usually award an associate degree. If you complete this type of program, you still need additional on-the-job training.

Work experience

Experience working as a machinist is very helpful for this occupation. Employers often select experienced machinists to become numerical control tool programmers.

On-the-job training

Most programmers learn additional skills on the job. At some jobs an experienced worker leads the training. At others, the employer provides a formal training program. Training typically lasts up to one year.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Most employers require tool programmers to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Some prefer to hire programmers who have completed a formal training program. Employers who train programmers usually prefer applicants who have experience as machine tool operators or machinists.

Employers look for applicants who are skilled in using computers and electronics.

Costs to workers

Most workers pay for tools and special clothing. Workers may also be required to join a union and pay an initiation fee and quarterly dues.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Computer numerically controlled machine tool programmers, metal and plastic (SOC 51-4012)

Pay Period
    Vancouver Hourly $19.62 $23.84 $29.47 $36.28 $44.63
Monthly $3,400 $4,131 $5,107 $6,287 $7,734
Yearly $40,810 $49,583 $61,294 $75,462 $92,832
United States Hourly $16.29 $20.24 $25.57 $31.87 $40.06
Monthly $2,823 $3,508 $4,431 $5,523 $6,942
Yearly $33,870 $42,100 $53,190 $66,280 $83,330

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The programmer's level of experience, training, and responsibility also affect wages. In general, programmers who belong to a union earn higher wages.

Numerical control tool programmers who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Numerical Tool and Process Control Programmers (SOC 51-4012)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 329 0.6% 16.1% 32
    King County 162 0.0% 19.6% 16
    Pierce County 46 8.7% 15.2% 5
    Snohomish County 95 -2.1% 12.4% 9
    Spokane County 12 16.7% 13.9% 1
United States 24,300 20.2% 5.2% 3,200

National employment

Positions for tool programmers are available in all parts of the country. However, jobs are most plentiful in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, where manufacturing is concentrated.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is strong. Companies are switching to computer-controlled machines because they improve quality and lower costs. Some software can translate part and product designs into machine tool instructions. This will reduce the demand for programmers. As long as the demand for goods remains high, tool programmers will be needed.

Job prospects are best for those with industry certifications and extensive experience.

Other resources

Association for Manufacturing Technology (external link)
7901 Westpark Drive
McLean, VA 22102
Precision Metalforming Association (external link)
6363 Oak Tree Boulevard
Independence, OH 44131
Robotic Industries Association (external link)
900 Victors Way, Suite 140
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
Washington Business Week (external link)
PO Box 1170
Renton, WA 98057


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational clusters