Lathe operators work with machines that create individual parts and other items out of raw materials such as steel, wood and plastic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average wage for this occupation as of 2014 is $37,360 per year. The highest paying industries for lathe operators are aerospace and glass products and parts manufacturing, with an average salary of $46,980 per year.
The minimum education requirement for lathe operators is usually a high school diploma. Organizations such as the National Institute for Metalworking Skills provide training that leads to earning credentials in the field, with several programs to develop lathe skills. NIMS also accredits other courses and scholastic programs that teach prospective lathe operators, ensuring that coursework meets industry standards. Apprenticeships pair experienced lathe operators with those new to the industry, so that newcomers get hands-on experience. Apprenticeships and certification are not necessary to obtain a job as a lathe operator, although some employers may prefer to hire people with credentials and prior experience.
Lathe operators without previous experience or training get on-the-job training. Duties include feeding materials into the machine, stopping and starting the crafting process and removing the finished product from the lathe. As an operator becomes more experienced, training expands to include complex tasks such as altering the speed that the material enters the lathe, changing bits on the machine and performing quality control inspections of the finished product.
In addition to the basic job duties, advanced lathe operators work with computers that operate the lathe machine. This involves downloading computer programs for different manufacturing processes into the machine's code and altering the shaping process of the lathe. Lathe operators also perform tests to ensure that the process is running correctly.