Here's how to have a career as a machine operator

Image: 123RF/Cathy Yeulet.

In the present era of mass production, the machine is playing an increasingly important role.

Factories produce articles in their thousands - to provide for the growing needs of the community, and to ensure the economical manufacturing of such products.

The person responsible for the functioning of these manufacturing machines is the machine worker or machine operator. The machine is initially set up, so that it can produce the required article in terms of size, shape, finish and quantity. It is then set in motion by either the setter or the machine worker.

In the plastics industry, for example, an adequate supply of raw material is fed into the hopper to keep the manufacturing process in motion for the prescribed time. After the machine is set in motion, the machine worker monitors the machine to ensure that it is functioning satisfactorily, and to make any necessary adjustments to the machine.

When something goes wrong, the supervisor is immediately summoned and in some cases the machine worker switches the machine off before calling for help. In some factories, machines toss out the finished article (which is desirable for safety reasons), while others need a machine worker to remove the article.

The machine worker must then inspect the article for flaws or irregularities in thickness, shape and colour and perform any trimming work that is needed, such as cutting off rough edges with a knife. The machine worker is also responsible for packing the product in stacks ready for despatch.

When machine workers in the plastics industry set their machines, it means that they must be able to measure accurately, insert the template into the machine correctly and also set the die and the speed of the machine.

Machine workers are also responsible for the cleaning of their machines. Although the work is performed in factories and workshops which are usually well lit and ventilated, the working conditions are rather unfavourable in that dust, oil and grease must be taken into account as part of the job. Considerable emphasis is placed on safety to prevent accidents on high-speed machines.

Personal requirements

  • Reliability - machines and materials are very
  • Expensive and negligence could lead to great losses
  • Be able to tolerate repetition and produce the
  • Same standard of finished article each time
  • Need good vision to detect any faults
  • Be observant to immediately notice malfunctions
  • Manual dexterity
  • Good eye-hand coordination
  • Good health to be able to stand all day

Watch the video to learn more:


How to enter

Schooling & school subjects compulsory subjects: None

Recommended subjects: Mechanical Technology, EGD,

No specific educational qualifications are required for appointment as machine workers. Many operators have a grade 9 certificate or lower qualification.

Some employers, however, give preference to persons with a higher educational qualification, especially when the degree of difficulty of the work is high.

What to study

The training of operators is done on an informal basis on the job under supervision of experienced machine workers or on a more formal level by means of short internal courses, organised exclusively by the particular employers.


Any manufacturing organisation such as

  • Iron and steel
  • Motor industry
  • Plastics industry.

Getting started

  • Try to get vacation or part-time work in a factory
  • Make an appointment to speak to a machine operator about this type of work

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