Angel Ortiz: Pandemic job loss opens door to exciting new career ‣ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Angel Ortiz: Pandemic job loss opens door to exciting new career

angel ortiz
Angel Ortiz, in blue shirt, pictured with his instructor and coworker, Jesse Fansler.

Like many people around the U.S., Angel Ortiz, of Remington, lost his job at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Luckily for Ortiz, he was able to turn this setback into a positive, quickly earning a National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER)-recognized credential and starting a new career he loves.

Last winter, Ortiz was working as a cook at a national-chain restaurant in Maryland. It was a job he wasn’t passionate about.

“I just got into the job just to have something to do,” he explained.

When the coronavirus pandemic came along, Ortiz’s job disappeared.

“I decided I’ve got to do something, better myself,” he said.

That’s when Ortiz, who is from Philadelphia, turned to the heavy-equipment operator (HEO) program being offered by Laurel Ridge Workforce Solutions. He took his classes at the Vint Hill site.

“From what I’d read, I learned that many of the guys working in the industry were retiring now, so there was a potential for growth,” Ortiz said.

Laurel Ridge was the first community college in Virginia to offer statewide industry credential programs for HEOs. HEO students receive safe, hands-on simulator training.

The program also comes with a guarantee to be interviewed by hiring companies. Ortiz was hired by S.W. Rodgers Co. Inc. in mid-August, before his course was even completed.

“I went from having no job, to having four job offers in one day,” he said. “That’s amazing.”

His foreman also happens to be the instructor he had at Vint Hill, Jesse Fansler. Ortiz has been very impressed with the instruction and mentoring he has received from Fansler.

“He’s taken the time to show us how to drive the equipment,” Ortiz said. “The first day, he put me on the roller. He put me on the backhoe to learn how to do trenching, tractor drag lines. He’s shown me how to operate the dozer. Workforce Solutions has a phenomenal crew of instructors.”

Ortiz is thrilled with his new career and what he learned at Laurel Ridge.

“I love it,” he said. “You’re outside. You get an assignment to do. You do it and enjoy being outdoors. It’s fun. I’m learning the different machines. Hopefully, I’ll be operating the bulldozer or excavator soon.”

The heavy equipment field was totally new to Ortiz.

“You could give me a book and I can read all day long, but the difference maker was those instructors at the school,” he said. “As soon as I walked in, Jesse knew that I didn’t have any background on the subject matter. We were able to go to his job site and break down what were we were learning from the book. We could see it in real life and implement that into our learning.”

The HEO program is offered by Workforce Solutions at Laurel Ridge’s Vint Hill site and Middletown Campus. There are various funding options available for students, including FastForward credential funding, financial aid and grants. For more information, visit, or call 540-868-7021.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.