Eighth-graders explore careers close to home at Marathon

March 12, 2019

CATLETTSBURG, Ky. — For most of the Tri-State’s middle-schoolers, the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Cattletsburg, Kentucky, is simply that smoky jungle of pipes and tanks off Interstate 64 near the Kentucky-West Virginia line — a mysterious city in itself flickering with a thousand lights and a few open flames.

But for 12 years now, Marathon has hosted an opportunity to peel back some of that mystique and frame it instead as a solid option to build a career close to home with its annual career fair, hosting about 3,500 eighth-graders from Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio each year.

On Monday, students were shuffled between 16 different stations, staffed and explained by the Marathon employees who work them, to showcase the starkly varied career paths that can lead through the refinery — far more than simply making fuel.

And most important to the Tri-State community, it’s an option for thousands of locals to cut out a financially rewarding career in their own backyard, said Shelia Fraley, Marathon community relations representative.

“A lot of times you here the kids say, ‘I can’t get a good job in my hometown.’” she said. “But we want people to know that you can, and that we have some great jobs here and that it’s a great place to raise your family.”

Students were guided through career options that included engineering, environmental oversight, safety, operations, inspection, contracting work (outside trades like welding and electrical engineers contracted to the refinery), and even Marathon’s own volunteer fire department.

The event has come full circle since 2007, Fraley said, adding that some of those first eighth-graders from 12 years ago have now found jobs at Marathon.

With now 16 refineries, there are lots of parts to be played — with good pay and benefits — in America’s largest refiner.

But it means all the more if that opportunity is close to home.

For Johnny Highfield, a senior refining engineer and a nearby Flatwoods, Kentucky, native, being a “lifer” at Marathon is something he called himself with a smile.

“Everything I have in this world I owe to this place and the Good Lord,” he said. “There are definitely job opportunities in this area that you don’t have to move away for.”

And not every job requires a four-year degree, and some aren’t even particularly heavy on math or science, he continued. Operators, who run and maintain the equipment at all times, only require a two-year degree.

“Everyone thinks that a refinery is just science or math, but we have all different types of people who work here,” Highfield said.

Over the next three weeks, the career fair will host middle-schoolers from South Point, Vinson, Huntington East, Huntington, Milton, Point Pleasant, Buffalo (Wayne), Fort Gay, Guyan Valley and Ceredo.