Automotive Machinist

Automotive machinists are skilled metalworkers who build, assemble, and renew internal combustion engines and engine components according to manufacturer specifications. They perform a variety of machining operations on engines and engine components of used vehicles. 

When vehicle engines are worn out, they burn too much oil and fuel and have to be rebuilt. The engine is brought to the rebuilder, who dismantles the engine and the engine components according to the manufacturer's instructions. 

This process includes the dismantling and cleaning of the engine, grinding various parts and manufacturing and fitting others.  It is very important that the automotive machinists inspect all the components thoroughly for cracks and other faults, after which they clean and rebuild the parts where necessary.  When turning and fitting the different parts, the re-assembling of the engine’s substructure has to be carefully done, before the engine parts can be balanced. The engine is then ‘mounted’ and a dynamometer used to test whether the engine functions correctly.

The work is very precise and is usually carried out indoors, in well-equipped workshops. Working conditions can be somewhat dirty and noisy, as lathes, grinders, drilling and milling machines are used.

Automotive machinists are very well trained tradesmen, who work accurately.  As a result, they can work for different other industries, in addition to engine builders.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • Grade 10 Certificate
  • Some employers demand higher qualifications

What to Study

Trained tradesmen train the automotive machinists in different workshops. A modular system ensures that the right methods are used.

There are three ways to qualify as a registered artisan:

1. An apprenticeship is a fixed contract between company and apprentice, ranging in duration from between 18 months and 4 years. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test leading to professional certification.

2. A learnership is a structured learning programme ranging from about a year to 3 years. A learnership comprises theoretical and practical training. Practical training is conducted on site (on the premises of the organisation). This has the advantage that the learner gets experience whilst training.

3. TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) Colleges offer theoretical training o prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.

All learners are required to complete a practical internship under the supervision of an experienced artisan. As an alternative to doing the full qualification, a learner can apply to do a skills programme at a TVET College. Skills programmes are short practical hands-on courses.

For more information about qualifications and skills programmes, contact your nearest TVET College. TVET Colleges are accredited and funded by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) such as MerSETA or ChietaSETA. They also receive bursary funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the NCV programme.


  • motor vehicle assembly factories
  • motor engineering industry
  • garages
  • independent workshops
  • motor manufacturing industry
  • organisations that maintain their own vehicles
  • government departments

Further Information

MerSETA (Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services)
P O Box 6848
Marshaltown, 2107
3 Metropolitan Park
Hillside Rd
Parktown, 2193
Tel: (011) 544-1316 Fax: (011) 484-8620

Getting Started

  • make an appointment to speak to an automotive machinist about this type of career and ask to observe them at work
  • try to obtain vacation work in an automotive machine shop or in a garage
  • take shop courses to become familiar with the use of tools

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations