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22 Hands-On Jobs That Pay Well and Require Less Than a Bachelor's Degree

Last Updated June 6, 2023

Hands-on jobs are great for people who want to see direct results from their hard work. With that kind of job, you can feel like you've really achieved something at the end of each day. That's probably why so many people who have practical careers report that they feel passionate, happy, and engaged in their jobs. Working with your hands can be fun, creative, and intellectually stimulating. And being responsible for fixing and building things, solving problems, or helping people can leave you feeling fulfilled and accomplished.

Choosing a hands-on career can also result in greater job security. That's because many jobs in this category can't be outsourced. For example, communities are always going to need auto mechanics, nurses, and police officers. Those jobs can't simply go overseas. Additionally, many practical occupations don't require you to spend years in school preparing for them. In fact, a lot of hands-on jobs that pay well only require one or two years of training. So it may not take you very long to prepare for an active career that provides a lot of opportunities.

Health care and skilled trades are two of the best sectors to find hands-on jobs that pay well, but they aren't the only ones. Other great sectors include beauty, design, media arts, technology, law enforcement, animal care, and culinary arts.

Check out the categories below to discover 22 jobs that allow you to work with your hands. Find out what the annual pay range is for each position and take a look at the number of new job openings that are projected each year.*

Health and Veterinary Care

Skilled Trades, Technology, and Law Enforcement

Design, Media Arts, Beauty, and Culinary Careers


Health and Veterinary Care

1. Dental Hygienist

People who are interested in high-paying hands-on jobs may want to consider careers as dental hygienists. With as little as two to three years of post-secondary schooling, you can start carrying out a number of tasks that involve working with patients and assisting dentists. A typical day could have you performing oral exams, cleaning and caring for teeth, and taking and developing x-rays. Although dental hygienists may have a few administrative responsibilities, the largest part of the work is hands-on in nature. Dental hygienist schooling typically takes from two to four years.

  • Annual pay range: $60,100 to $100,200 or higher
  • New job openings: 16,300
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate degree

2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Ultrasound technicians spend most of their days working with their hands. They perform a variety of diagnostic procedures using sonography to help doctors and other medical professionals detect, diagnose, and keep track of conditions and diseases. For example, one patient may have a heart concern, whereas another patient could be a pregnant mom eager to see an image of her growing baby. You'll likely get to interact with a variety of different people while performing your work. Completing a diploma or associate degree program can prepare you to work as a diagnostic medical sonographer or ultrasound technician.

  • Annual pay range: $59,640 to $101,650 or higher
  • New job openings: 6,000
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate degree

3. Occupational or Physical Therapy Assistant

Many hands-on jobs exist in the medical field, but opportunities in occupational and physical therapy assisting are known to be good-paying and growing in number. Even better, you can prepare for careers such as occupational therapy or physical therapy assistant in as little as two years through training at an occupational or physical therapy school. Physical and occupational therapy are both forms of treatment for helping people rehabilitate from injuries and illnesses. However, physical therapy works to treat the actual injury or condition, whereas occupational therapy focuses on improving patients' functional abilities. So, although the fields have a lot of overlap, the therapies have different purposes and goals.

As an assistant in an occupational therapy office, you may work with patients to help them recover, rehabilitate, and adapt so that they can continue to function in their everyday surroundings. In a physical therapy setting, you may provide treatments to patients and guide them through activities to help them recover, regain movement, and manage their pain. In either role, you could also be responsible for assessing and educating patients and managing their records.

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

  • Annual pay range: $23,860 to $80,210 or higher
  • New job openings: 9,300
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate degree

Physical Therapy Assistants and Aides

  • Annual pay range: $22,140 to $80,170 or higher
  • New job openings: 25,500
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate degree

4. Nurse

Low-Stress Jobs That Pay WellDo you think it's even possible to prepare for a good-paying, in-demand, hands-on healthcare job in less than two years? Well, it certainly is if you'd like to enter the field of nursing. In just a short amount of time, you could gain the skills and certifications needed to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN).

Both types of nurses directly care for patients in various medical settings, but RNs tend to have higher-level responsibilities. As a result, they often earn higher pay. The advancement opportunities in nursing are often excellent, so a lot of people start by becoming LPNs and then move up the career ladder as they gain more education and experience.

  • Annual pay range for registered nurses: $59,450 to $120,250 or higher
  • Annual pay range for licensed practical and vocational nurses: $37,150 to $63,790 or higher
  • New job openings for registered nurses: 203,200
  • New job openings for licensed practical and vocational nurses: 58,800
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary diploma

5. Veterinary Technician

Try to think of a better way to spend your days than working directly with animals. If you can't, then you may want to consider a career as a veterinary technician. A short one- to two-year veterinary technician program can get you ready to work alongside vets to care for pets and other animals of all types and sizes, from hamsters to horses. Your daily responsibilities could include administering emergency first aid, assisting during surgeries and other procedures, collecting lab samples, giving medications, performing lab tests, providing nursing care, and taking x-rays. You may find a number of job possibilities at vet clinics, animal hospitals, and other animal care settings.

  • Annual pay range: $28,370 to $48,100 or higher
  • New job openings: 15,500
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate degree

6. Paramedic

Low-Stress Jobs That Pay WellPlace yourself on the front lines of the emergency medical field by becoming a paramedic. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) often enjoy meaningful careers in which they provide the first point of care in emergency situations. In a quick paramedic training program, you'll likely learn how to manage an emergency scene, assess shock, give rescue breathing, provide IVs, and offer other life-saving treatments to care for patients until you reach the hospital. This is a field to consider if you want a hands-on occupation that is purposeful and valuable.

  • Annual pay range: $46,770 to $74,200 or higher
  • New job openings: 6,000
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

7. Massage Therapist

Begin a career in which you use your hands to help people feel better. Massage therapists offer treatments that are designed to help their clients recover from injuries, manage pain, relieve stress and tension, and simply relax. A short massage therapy program can prepare you to offer a variety of massage techniques, such as reflexology, stone therapy, and deep tissue, infant, and Swedish massage. In less than two years, you could become a registered massage therapist (RMT) and start your own practice or work in settings like spas, clinics, resorts, and cruise ships.

  • Annual pay range: $24,450 to $77,600 or higher
  • New job openings: 25,200
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

Skilled Trades, Technology, and Law Enforcement

8. Wind Turbine Technician

Can you picture yourself working directly with one of today's leading green technologies? That's exactly what you can do as a wind turbine technician. You may even have the opportunity to travel to install, service, and repair wind turbines across the country. You'll likely spend your days climbing wind turbines to conduct routine inspections. And you may get to troubleshoot problems and take care of issues like fixing hydraulic systems, repairing electrical issues, and replacing components. With just a short amount of schooling, you could soon be prepared to take on an active job and play a part in fighting climate change.

  • Annual pay range: $46,420 to $77,810 or higher
  • New job openings: 1,900
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

9. Police Officer

One of the highest-ranking hands-on jobs is police work. You can take on an active role in law enforcement to catch lawbreakers and help keep your community safe. You may spend your days patrolling the streets or investigating specific crimes. Many police officers join specialized units that are responsible for handling crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking, murder, or fraud. And, as long as you meet the criteria, it doesn't take long to become a police officer. Upon doing so, you may enjoy many interesting possibilities related to beginning and advancing your career.

  • Annual pay range: $40,420 to $105,540 or higher
  • New job openings: 58,700
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate and police academy training

10. Mechanical Engineering Technician

Imagine taking on a practical job that involves working alongside mechanical engineers to help them design, develop, and manufacture a variety of different mechanical devices. Often, technicians focus their efforts on bringing engineers' designs to life. You may be responsible for building, testing, and manufacturing items like engines, generators, and turbines. And, as you test those items, you'll likely analyze the results and report your findings in an effort to improve the end products. So if you'd like to work with your hands in order to create tangible goods, then the field of mechanical engineering could be a great choice. Mechanical engineering technician training is available online or on campus.

  • Annual pay range: $37,670 to $95,300 or higher
  • New job openings: 4,200
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate or diploma

11. Heavy Equipment Mechanic

Get your hands dirty by servicing and repairing heavy-duty machinery and equipment. Along with engines, you'll also work on fuel and brake lines, hydraulics, electrical components, and other systems and components of heavy machines like tractors, bulldozers, and railway engines. Heavy equipment mechanics perform a lot of field work, so you'll likely travel around to worksites like farms, oil fields, coal mines, rail yards, and construction and logging sites. Heavy equipment mechanic training can prepare you to work as an independent contractor, for a company, or with the government (e.g., by servicing fleets and military equipment).

  • Annual pay range: $36,900 to $78,280 or higher
  • New job openings: 23,900
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

12. Electrician

Most of the work completed by electricians is hands-on. Additionally, electrical work is one of the best-paid skilled trades with a high demand for qualified workers. Many aspiring electricians start out by taking a short electrician trade school program to develop essential skills. From there, they complete an apprenticeship that eventually leads to achieving journeyman certification. Before you know it, you could be installing, servicing, and repairing electrical systems in residential, commercial, or industrial settings.

  • Annual pay range: $37,020 to $99,800 or higher
  • New job openings: 79,900
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

13. Computer Support Technician

The information technology (IT) field offers many incredible opportunities, but computer support is likely one of the best hands-on options. In today's connected world, it's important for computer systems and networks to run optimally. Computer support technicians play a crucial part in making sure that happens. When a computer or network crashes, they jump in to get it back up and running as quickly as possible. Many technicians specialize in either user or network support. But, depending on the size of your organization or the scope of your role, you may get to work in both areas. You can start preparing for those roles by completing a short computer technician program.

  • Annual pay range: $38,560 to $102,410 or higher
  • New job openings: 75,000
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary diploma or associate degree

14. HVAC Technician

Homes and buildings require climate control and airflow, especially in places that experience extreme temperature fluctuations in the winter and summer months. HVAC technicians work with crucial heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems to ensure that temperatures are properly maintained. A short HVAC training program can prepare you to install, maintain, and repair a variety of residential and commercial HVAC systems so that people can reside or work in their buildings comfortably.

  • Annual pay range: $34,320 to $78,210 or higher
  • New job openings: 41,100
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

15. Truck Driver

Put your hands on the steering wheel and head down the open road as a transport truck driver. Society relies on the work of truck drivers to move goods around cities, regions, and states, as well as across the country. In fact, a large portion of the country's manufactured products are distributed to buyers and shipping docks via commercial trucks. You can take on the responsibility of safely hauling shipments to their destinations on schedule. You'll also get to take care of pre- and post-inspections and minor vehicle and trailer maintenance. After completing your formal commercial driver's license training, you can take your state's written exams and road tests to get your CDL.

  • Annual pay range: $30,710 to $72,730 or higher
  • New job openings: 259,900
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

16. Welder

WelderBy using your hands and powerful welding equipment, you can manufacture metal products and structures of all types and sizes. Many different welding processes and methods are used for tasks like manufacturing cars and ships, building electronics, and constructing roads and bridges. A short welding training program can teach you how to use those methods, as well as how to read blueprints and maintain and repair welding equipment. Learning those vital skills can prepare you for hands-on careers in sectors like aerospace technology, automobile manufacturing, construction, mining, and shipbuilding.

  • Annual pay range: $31,350 to $63,660 or higher
  • New job openings: 47,600
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

17. Automotive or Diesel Mechanic

When people talk about hands-on jobs, mechanical work is often one of the first things brought up. Plus, with the number of cars and trucks on the roads today, it's no surprise that auto and diesel mechanics are in such high demand. You can prepare for one of those positions and become a certified mechanic in only about two years. That's a small investment to make for a chance at getting a practical job you'll love. In 2021, the median annual pay for diesel mechanics was $48,690 and $46,880 for automotive mechanics. You can develop your expertise with either gas or diesel engines and learn how to use the latest tools and technology to service and repair many different makes and models of vehicles. And depending on your school, you may gain additional qualifications. For instance, diesel technology programs sometimes include a truck driving component, leading to further job options should you want to explore a different industry area.

  • Annual pay range: $29,010 to $76,150 or higher
  • New job openings for diesel mechanics: 28,500
  • New job openings for automotive mechanics: 73,300
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate

Design, Media Arts, Beauty, and Culinary Careers

18. Fashion Designer

Think about what it would be like to have a high-profile hands-on career in fashion design. That can become your reality with as little as two to three years of post-secondary training. You may soon be ready to jump into the fashion industry and bring your designs to the masses. Many designers start their careers by working for large companies. However, the Internet has made it easier than ever for entrepreneurial fashion designers to market their own products to customers. So you have options for how to begin your career. You could soon be designing and producing men's, women's, and children's apparel, as well as accessories like purses, scarves, hats, and belts.

  • Annual pay range: $37,480 to $130,870 or higher
  • New job openings: 2,300
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate degree

19. Restaurant Manager

Why not place yourself among the exciting hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant? You can work directly with customers and restaurant staff to ensure that everything runs smoothly. You may be responsible for overseeing the kitchen and dining areas, ordering and organizing supplies, handling employee and customer problems, staffing, scheduling, and budgeting. Depending on the size and type of restaurant, you could oversee every detail down to the daily drink specials and table décor. Restaurant management training can prepare you for career opportunities in all kinds of settings from small, locally owned cafes to large corporate franchises.

  • Annual pay range: $36,630 to $98,070 or higher
  • New job openings: 45,000
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate or diploma

20. Sound Engineering Technician

Your love for music, combined with your interest in technology, could make sound engineering an awesome career choice. A recording arts or audio production education could prepare you to work in studios or at live events to take care of everything to do with sound. That could include setting up and taking down equipment, controlling sound quality and volume levels, recording audio, synchronizing audio to video, and converting recorded content into digital formats for distribution. You'll likely need to know how to maintain and repair your equipment, and you may be responsible for lighting as well. Some of the top industries for sound engineering technicians are motion picture and video production, sound recording, radio and TV broadcasting, and the performing arts.

  • Annual pay range: $29,120 to $96,520 or higher
  • New job openings: 1,600
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate or diploma

21. Chef

Can you picture yourself using your hands and tapping into your passion for cooking to create mouthwatering meals in a professional setting? If so, then consider the exciting possibility of becoming a professional chef. In less than two years, you can obtain the culinary skills needed to start out in a commercial kitchen. By gaining some experience, you could work your way up to a head chef position. Or you could open your own restaurant and put your innovative and creative ideas into practice every day.

  • Annual pay range: $30,910 to $84,570 or higher
  • New job openings: 24,300
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate or diploma

22. Skincare Specialist

In less than a year, you could be ready to jump into a hands-on beauty career that offers many amazing benefits like ample job opportunities and good earning possibilities. Not only that, you can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from helping your clients feel and look incredible. You can spend your days offering skincare services like facials, waxing, body wraps, aromatherapy, exfoliation, and acne and eczema treatments. Most people begin their careers in salon, spa, and resort settings, but you may also find opportunities with medical-based establishments. Many beauty school programs include esthetics and skincare training.

  • Annual pay range: $23,088 to $65,683 or higher
  • New job openings: 13,500
  • Typical entry-level education: Post-secondary certificate


* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Some careers listed may be part of a combined occupation profile (visited June 6, 2023).