I'm a little older than most here, I believe.. so if wisdom comes with age, here's my take.
I'd go for the machinist job first along with welding, and then engineering if you can stand to do that much more schooling.
Here's why - around here, a welder if he's smart can knock down $25-28hr. A machinist not so much... but combo the two and you've got a very sellable skill set.
The reason I do not recommend any engineering job is - the USA is headed away from manufacturing at all. It's all gone overseas, thanks to our retarded leaders. Engineers do not need to be on-site, so the internet has made engineering positions global... and why hire you for $50k+ when I can get Haji to do it for $3.50hr ?
My dad was an electrical engineer, I watched him go from a high demand to no demand, thanks to computerization and the internet. I'm in IT, same thing.
If I had it all to do over again, I'd go into HVAC. The technology hasn't changed much in 100 years and probably won't ever. You HAVE to be on-site with it, so they cant outsource it to the asians or hindus. It pays $25-28hr, and if you work for yourself, the sky's the limit. With your mach/mech intel, I'd say you're a strong candidate for industrial HVAC, which is BIG money.
OK, there's my 2 cents.
yup i work in electrical machine maintenance (i get to fix CNC machines and welding robots the so called machine operators AKA button pushers fudge up) i must say when a robot goes through a fence or you see someone try to drill with a tap is rather entertaining on my end - not so much on the companies end
but if i were you get the hands on floor experience and eventually get that engineering degree. that will take you farther than anybody fresh outa highschool that worked at dairy queen but got thier mech eng degree. your resume looks 1000X better.
95% of the "finding a job battle" seems to be getting the interview in the first place - the better you can make that piece of paper look the more likely you are to get called.
factory work blows. period. i dont know anyone anywhere in a factory who actually wants to go to work in the morning. you may not see it now but the old guys that have bad knees, arthritis etc and have been sitting/standing/loading the same friggin part for the last 40 years are typically grouchy as hell.
yea the base level production is getting outsourced but the headquarters and design labs/testing facilities are usually here.
i work in essentially a huge weld shop - they get shafted alot in a very dirty environment. some places only allow 5 tips/cones a month - if the operator keeps burning them up it comes out of their personal salary. some make a decent wage but not where i work. usually they are some of the first to get laid off too and with our unstable econeomy as it is its a roller coaster. (im currently in rolling layoffs, work for a few weeks then get laid off for a week or two.)
i woulda gone for engineering anyday if i knew what i know now.