Building Skills and Community: Spotlight on Jessica McLaurin

October 10, 2023

In celebration of both Hispanic Heritage Month and LGBT History Month, Building Skills NY is proud to highlight Jessica McLaurin, an HVAC professional on the path to long-term success.

For East New York native Jessica McLaurin, the city will always be home – train traffic notwithstanding. “The MTA gets a bad rep,” she says. “But you can get around 24/7 over here! I love that.” 

McLaurin’s beloved home base doubles as her workplace. She’s an HVAC Helper, an opportunity she secured through Building Skills NY (BSNY) after completing training through the organization’s Construction Career Accelerator program in 2022. 

It’s a fitting professional step for McLaurin, who has long harbored a passion for her community and a desire to work with her hands. 

Growing up in East New York, she would watch construction in the area and wonder what the workers were doing and how. She found a kindred spirit in her grandfather, a mechanic who taught her to make repairs. 

“When I thought about my future, I realized it made sense for me to have a career in construction.” 

Prior to her construction training, McLaurin had mostly performed custodial work. When she expressed interest in a long-term career in the trades, a local community organization, Cypress Hills LDC, connected her with BSNY. 

Jessica McLaurin with BSNY’s Director of Business Services, Glenn Hilzen.

Jessica McLaurin with BSNY’s Director of Business Services, Glenn Hilzen.

Since joining the BSNY community, McLaurin has collected a host of certifications and earned steady recognition for her work. Her colleagues at SC Prime Energy praise her enthusiasm and attention to detail, and she was a recipient of the Building Futures award at the 2023 Best of Building Skills NY event. 

She credits her success to hard work and perseverance. Reflecting on the challenges of HVAC training, she says, “It’s like when you watch a tutorial on YouTube. The expert makes it look easy.”  

“Easy” hardly describes McLaurin’s HVAC journey. She commuted two hours from her NYC Parks Department job in Ozone Park to training in East Harlem multiple nights a week, then woke up at 5 am for work. She’s also had to conquer a “small fear of heights” – an obstacle she didn’t realize would come into play for ductwork.  

“When you want something bad enough, you can either make excuses or push through it,” she says. “I just pushed through it. I had a goal in mind and wanted to accomplish it.” 

A solid support system helps, too. Hers includes her parents, sister, niece and nephew, and her partner, India. The latest addition? BSNY’s Director of Training and Operations, Tatanisia Lumley. 

Lumley’s support has helped connect McLaurin with opportunities for additional certifications and continued career development. “The communication is just always there every time I reach out to her. She’s super responsive, very supportive, and helpful in a lot of ways.” 

McLaurin is proud to spend her days giving back to the community that shaped her. When she’s not on the job site installing PVC piping or exhaust bands, she’s likely to be found at her local community garden, where she was recently elected coordinator. “The garden offers a different kind of community that you might not get living in certain areas. You get to learn about people in a different way,” she says. 

Having lived in East New York since 1986, she’s seen the area undergo significant change. Her work and volunteering enable her to play a role in its evolution. 

As McLaurin considers her next step, she’s eager to take on more leadership. She’s worked closely with Lumley to map out the next steps needed to become a project manager, including new certifications and a deeper understanding of NYC’s building codes. She is undaunted by the challenge. 

“When I first started working, I was pretty bad at a lot of things,” she says. “Now there are new guys, and I’m able to show them a few things.” 

Hear from Jessica and her fellow Building Futures honorees below: