Careers without College: Working With Your Hands

Lesson 2: Working With Your Hands


Working with your hands

Two growing branches of the job market are the trades and the service sector. While it’s true that some positions are being replaced by automation, new ones are popping up all the time.

These days, jobs that involve working with your hands often require you to have a specialized skill set. Some people assume that office jobs automatically pay more; however, many of these in-demand, specialized positions also pay very well. 

Salary and job security aren’t the only things that matter. In choosing a career path, you should also weigh things like job satisfaction and what you're good at.

Maybe you like meeting new people, or you’re skilled at problem-solving. Each job description below lists some of the pros and cons, as well as one of the key traits that will help you to succeed in that specific role. 

Training and education

While you don’t need a four-year college degree for the jobs in this lesson, you will need training. You can often get this on the job, sometimes through an apprenticeship where you learn from someone with experience. (Trade apprenticeships are usually paid, while others are not). 

In terms of education, you might need a certification on top of your GED/high school diploma. You could also pursue an Associate’s degree, which takes around two years. Every occupation has different requirements. If you want to be a competitive candidate, it might be worth going above and beyond the minimum qualifications. 

10 interesting careers

#1. Welder - Welding is definitely its own art form! If you’re creative and a bit of a perfectionist, this might be the field for you. You’ll learn all about metallurgy, or the properties of different metals.

Shipbuilding and manufacturing are among the many types of industries you can enter. It’s helpful if you’re good at math in order to do things like read blueprints and calculate dimensions. Since the tools and temperatures are dangerous, hand-eye coordination is key.

In addition to going to trade school or getting certified, you often work as an apprentice before becoming a master welder. You can also earn special certificates in order to move into other roles, like that of an inspector or supervisor. The pay and benefits are major draws, and you have the option of joining a union. Check out the American Welding Society’s webpage for more resources. 

#2. Landscaper - Most of the skills you need as a landscaper can be gained through hands-on experience. You can start the job early—even while in high school—so that you can get more years under your belt.

Successful landscapers recognize the importance of good customer service, since clients will often recommend you to friends or neighbors if they appreciate your work. You might learn things like hardscaping, how to administer pesticides and aeration techniques.

While the pay varies widely depending on your role, you can specialize in a specific area, like becoming a certified arborist, or eventually start your own company. If you decide to open a business, keep in mind that there will be startup costs, since the equipment is expensive. For people who enjoy the outdoors, landscaping can be a great fit. 

#3. Dog walker - This one might surprise you! Many people who love animals start dog walking or pet sitting as a side gig, then turn it into a full-time career.

Dog walking is a branch of the service sector that’s been rapidly growing, especially with the rise of several apps, like Wag! And Rover. You can also grow your client base simply through word of mouth. If you use an app, the company does take a cut–and since you’re technically self-employed, taxes are deducted at the end of the year.

You can make decent money if you live in a big city or are willing to work on weekends/holidays. It opens up a lot of doors, too; you could open your own business, get into grooming/dog training, or start studying to become a vet tech. 

#4. Carpenter - Do you like tinkering with new tools? If you enjoy being challenged with innovative projects, this is a field that you could look into. Many carpenters will tell you that no two days of work are the same. It’s an environment that requires teamwork with other tradesmen, physical strength, and attention to detail.

The cons are that it can be hard on your body, and if you work at a construction site, you’re exposed to the elements. An apprenticeship takes around four years, since there’s a lot to learn about woodworking. You can also go to school instead, or enter a hybrid program which combines schooling with on-the-job training.

Once you’re a more experienced carpenter, you can be self-employed and more selective about which jobs you take. You can also build your own network by consistently doing quality work. 

#5. Nail technician - This is another job in the service industry you can get a head-start on! Many nail techs start off by practicing on friends or family and realizing how much they enjoy being creative.

In order to get hired at a salon, you will need to work toward getting a license. You should be 16 or older and have a high school diploma/GED before applying to cosmetology school. One downside is that cosmetology school tends to be rather pricey. 

You can also get certifications on your general license, since new techniques are popping up all the time. If you have excellent customer service skills, then this could be a fun, social environment. To find a school near you, check out the Beauty Schools Directory’s website

#6. Auto mechanic - Being a mechanic means getting to work with people who share your love of cars.  Younger folks can jumpstart their career as a mechanic by attending a technical high school. While the field has been dominated by men, that’s slowly changing. Maybe you end up focusing on collision repair, or working on military vehicles. The non-profit ASE (or National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) offers both general and specialized certifications. You can also look into becoming an automotive technician, which involves a different set of tasks (like diagnostic testing).In addition to classroom learning, vocational programs almost always offer on-the-job training—so you can start getting your hands dirty right away! 

#7. Wind turbine technician - As the need for renewable energy grows, so does the demand for “wind techs.” You may have never heard of this job before, but if you’re adventurous, like to travel, and care about the environment, it’s definitely worth checking out.

You also need to be physically strong and not scared of heights! After you learn about the mechanics of wind turbines through an Associate’s degree or certification program, you’ll go on to install and repair them—usually specializing in one or the other. If this job sparks your interest, you can search for programs near you through the WINDExchange

#8. Elevator mechanic - Elevator mechanics fix not only elevators, but also things like ski lifts, escalators, and moving walkways. Typically you specialize in one area, like installation or troubleshooting, and are expected to complete a paid apprenticeship. 

Not only is this field rapidly expanding, but it offers a hefty salary—especially if you live in a busy city. You can often work paid overtime, and it has an international union that advocates for its members.

Cons include working in cramped spaces and the fact that it can be dangerous. But if you’re especially good at problem-solving and enjoy studying subjects like mechanics and hydraulics, this challenging profession is worth looking into. 

#9. Plumber - As a well-paying trade that’s not going away anytime soon, many people who choose plumbing care about job security. Maybe you have a family member who works in the field, or a friend who makes solid pay.

While there’s a lot of variety in terms of the nature of the work, simply put, you can’t have a weak stomach when it comes to sewage! In terms of the educational path, some plumbers have an Associate’s degree, and unions will often sponsor your apprenticeship. You also need a license in most states.

If you become a master plumber, you have the option of moving into management or starting your own business. When it comes down to it, this essential profession allows you to be the hero who saves the day.

#10. Electrician - Being an electrician is another well-respected trade with consistent job prospects. You often work alongside other types of tradesmen on construction projects, installing or fixing appliances, wiring, and other electrical components.

Some electricians prefer to work on industrial or commercial sites, whereas others prefer going to people’s residences and building their own network. Since electricity can cause injuries, you need to be focused, patient, and have good hand-eye coordination.

 Apprenticeships take at least four years and are paid. Typically you need a certain number of hours of on-the-job training in order to take the journeyman licensure exam. From there you can work toward becoming a master electrician, who are the highest paid in the field.

A few research tips

As you start researching programs or certifications, it’s important to consider a few things. Look into at least a few different options so that you can compare the time commitment and cost.

If you plan on attending a program or course of study, be sure to get information about their career services. Will they help you to find a potential employer before graduation? And be sure to watch out for diploma mills!

Another important variable to weigh is the “projected growth rate” of any profession. The ones in this tutorial are typically in high demand, but your location directly affects your job security. 

If you’re interested in finding a certification course or program near you, you might want to check out and Best Trade Schools. The Occupational Outlook Handbook provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is also an excellent resource, since you can search for professions by things like educational requirements and salary range

If you’re artistic or a “people person,” then stay tuned for our next lesson!