Hands On Skills Help You Succeed At Any Job

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Female instructor shows a student different mechanisms on the underside of a car
Learning the ins and outs of any job requires getting your hands dirty — in some cases, literally. (Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

By Mary Jo DiLonardo

Do you remember the last time you built a sandcastle? You likely just started digging, and your beach creation took shape. Now consider if someone had told you how to build a castle but never let you dig in the sand. That's a different experience! Building it yourself and learning hands on skills are what made you a good beach architect.

It’s the same in the real world, especially in skilled trade careers. Skills learned by doing are important. You get a sense of achievement when you see the results of your work. Learning hands on skills also teaches problem-solving, helps build confidence, and even helps your brain work in a different way.

How People Learn

Students listen to a lecture and concentrate
Some students do well in lecture classes because they are auditory learners. (Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)


People learn in all sorts of ways. There are many different learning styles, but the three main types of learning include:

  1. Visual learning: People who learn this way prefer seeing maps, charts and diagrams to understand a topic. Patterns and shapes help them learn.
  2. Auditory learning: These people learn best when they hear information. They prefer lectures and spoken explanations.
  3. Hands on learning: People who prefer hands on learning, also called kinesthetic learning, learn best by doing. Personal experience helps them learn the best.

All About Hands On Learning

Three students tinker with a robotic arm to see how it works
Tinkering with a robotic machine is more interesting than reading about it, and the experience deepens students' understanding of how it works. (Credit: AUUSanAKUL/Shutterstock)


Experiential or kinesthetic learning means to learn through hands on experience. Instead of just reading, listening or watching to soak in knowledge, these learners actually use their senses to get involved with the subject. For example, this could include doing a lab experiment in science class or using a saw in woodworking class. For very young learners, it could mean working with blocks to learn how to count or to learn letters.

With hands on learning, students interact with the material to solve problems, fix something or create something new. It’s all about participation instead of merely hearing about a subject.

Why Do Hands On Skills Matter? 

Diverse children learn programming using computers and by constructing a small car
One of the top benefits of hands on learning is that it improves students' retention of the information. (Credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock)


There are many benefits to hands on experience. The most recognized benefits include:

  • It improves retention rate. When you work experientially to learn something, you usually retain more information than if you were learning passively. A 2012 study found that students retain about 5% of information from a lecture but retain 75% when they learn by doing.
  • It enhances critical thinking. When you have to troubleshoot to figure out how to fix or make something, you hone your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • It builds confidence. When you work hands-on to complete a task or learn something new, there’s a feeling of accomplishment when you’re successful, which builds self-esteem and confidence.
  • It encourages teamwork. Hands on activities often require cooperation and problem-solving as a group. Working together helps develop social skills and teamwork, key tools in the professional world.

Hands On Skills Jumpstart Real Life Careers

Student in CPR class demonstrates technique while instructor watches
Practicing on a CPR dummy is how healthcare workers learn the correct technique to apply when a real patient needs their help. (Credit: Microgen/Shutterstock)


In the work world, hands on skills are the fundamental building blocks to success in many fields. Here are some examples.

Construction: Hands on abilities are critical in construction. Carpenters, plumbers and electricians must learn specific hands on skills to handle everything from the fundamentals of the job to specialty tasks. In fact, this is the principle behind Big Skills Tiny Homes, a nonprofit group that helps young people learn about the construction industry by building a tiny home.

Energy: Troubleshooting electrical power systems or understanding how a power plant works are similar situations in another industry. You need time and experience in those specific environments to gain proficiency.

Healthcare: Healthcare training is built on the principle of learning by doing. Think about the soft mannequins used to teach CPR to millions of healthcare workers: They were created to make practice as real as possible. Similarly, the best way for students to move from a theoretical situation to being a skilled dental hygienist or phlebotomist is to work on real patients.

Hospitality: Repetition and learning by doing are some of the  best ways to become a great cook. The same holds true for managing a kitchen, which is why so many of these managerial roles are filled by people who have done many of the jobs they now oversee.

Manufacturing: Hands on skills in manufacturing are fundamental, from learning the intricacies of a machine to learning 3D printing.

Transportation: Working on automobiles or airplanes requires dedication to detail, but it’s repeated, hands on experience that makes a great mechanic.

How To Gain Hands On Skills 

Female volunteer pets two dogs at an animal shelter
Helping out at an animal shelter puts you in the environment so you know what it's like to help dogs every day. (Credit: andysavchenko/Shutterstock)


You can start learning hands on skills that are applicable to work in middle school and high school. For example, you can pick up basic programming skills through computer science classes or get a jump on understanding everything from finances to nutrition in a family and consumer science class, formerly called home ec.

Beyond that, you can take advantage of internships that let you work in a field under the supervision of someone who is already skilled. First you watch, and then you learn by doing, gaining real-world experience.

Another great way to get hands on experience is through volunteering. Think you might want to be a chef? Volunteer in a food kitchen. Hope to work in a vet’s office as a veterinary technician? Spend time volunteering in an animal shelter.

Real-life experience will not only help you develop hands on skills, but it will also let you get a taste of a job to make sure that’s where your interests truly lie.

How Do Hands On Skills Translate to Success?

Acquiring hands on experience before you start a job puts you a rung above other candidates when a company is hiring. Not only can the skills get you in the door, they can set you up for greater success once you’re on the job.

For example, people who serve in the military typically learn hands on skills that are relevant to many jobs outside the military, from business to public service. Their experience doesn't count toward a formal degree, but it’s relevant and will help them succeed in other careers.

Similarly, whether you volunteer, intern or take a class, the hands on experience you gain now can be valuable when you apply them to your chosen profession.

Mary Jo DiLonardo is an Atlanta-based writer who has worked in print, online and broadcast journalism for more than 30 years. She has covered education, health, lifestyle issues and nature for many outlets including WebMD, CNN and Treehugger. 

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