Considered a rising star in the facilities management industry, Jessica Bickel loves taking on challenges, learning new skills, and making valuable connections. One prominent industry veteran called Bickel “an example of the future of FM.”
Bickel currently serves as Facilities Coordinator for Reece Group USA, a Dallas-based supplier of plumbing, kitchen, appliance, and HVAC products with about 250 locations across the country. Since joining Reece in August 2021, she has developed, implemented, and overseen enhancements to the CMMS software; established consistent and effective processes; and functioned as the facilities department liaison for the construction team, performing or overseeing facilities tasks on all active construction projects.
Bickel has spent almost her entire professional life in the facilities industry, starting in 2009 as a facilities technician and advancing to various positions.
“Despite the titles, each role I’ve progressed into has presented me a new set of challenges and development opportunities,” Bickel told Facilities Management Advisor. “I’ve found my niche in the industry in roles which require me to work on facilities/construction or commercial real estate projects and require a high level of interaction with other departments or teams.”
Bickel has an associate’s degree in facilities management and a bachelor’s degree in applied science with focuses on business administration, project management, and—of course—facilities management. She currently holds the FMP credential and is working to obtain her CFM and ProFM ones, as well.
Notably, Bickel also sits on the board of advocacy group Women in Facilities Management (WIFM), where she has “served for several years to highlight FM as an industry of choice for women professionals.”
To learn more about Bickel and her industry insights, please read the “Faces of Facilities” interview below:
How did you get your start in the field?
I got my start in the FM industry entirely by accident. I was an inventory technician, and I attempted to develop an alternative layout for the warehouse to make stocking inventory easier. That task was wildly outside my scope of work but brought me to the attention of a mentor who took me under his wing, introduced me to the FM industry, and sent me to my first IFMA World Workplace conference.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry, and why?
That’s a challenging question to answer because there is a core group of people who mentor me and who have heavily impacted who I have become as a professional. If I have to pick, I would have to say Meredith Thatcher and Lesley Groff. I met them at the first presentation I attended during my first World Workplace conference.
It was through their introductions that I joined a group of powerhouse women in the industry; these women have provided advice and guidance, and they’ve helped me identify and learn from my mistakes. Their presence in my world keeps me inspired and challenged to do better and to learn more.
What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?
I jokingly equate my career to falling up a set of stairs; each role I’ve worked on has provided me new challenges and skills. It’s hard to pinpoint any one particular instance as the one from which I’ve learned the most.
Instead, I would say that the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that no one can be the expert in everything. Most of my roles have been outside the scope of things I’ve done previously, and so they keep me in a constant state of learning and problem-solving. It’s fundamental to my success—and the success of my employers—that I develop connections with stakeholders at all levels and draw together the resources to develop strategic solutions.
Rather than attempting to be the expert in everything, I try to know the experts. Rather than trying to have all the answers, I try to be in a position to find the answers.
What are some of the biggest facilities management issues at your organization?
My organization is growing rapidly and is investing heavily in itself and its locations. My department is in the mother of all growth spurts as far as demand goes. This leads us to unique challenges in making sure our tools and processes can scale at the speed necessary to keep up, as well as managing the massive influx of data and information about all of our locations around the country.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?
Hands down my favorite thing about this industry is that I’ve never done the exact same job twice. Every role I’ve held, every facilities ticket I’ve addressed, every project I’ve worked on—each has been unique, and I love the never-ending capacity for new challenges.
This means that nothing I learn is wasted. Future challenges could be solved with the skills I learn today, and the challenges I face today in my role are solved, in part, by historical experience and a broad understanding of many facets in the FM industry, as well as the industries that we interact with.
What changes would you like to see in the FM industry?
The sheer amount of variance in job roles, titles, and job scopes makes it very hard to chart a course of career progression that others could follow. It also makes it challenging to navigate role changes and to establish market demand for the purposes of wage negotiation. All of these factors handicap new talent entering the industry.
There is still a lack of communication from within the FM industry to outside industries that concisely conveys our value and impact to the market at large. Internally, we understand our value, but it’s still a struggle to communicate that to our organizations and change the mentality from “FM as a cost center” to “FM as a strategic resource.”
How can company leaders make facilities management a value within their organization?
My definition of FM has always been: “We design, build, manage, and maintain an environment that enables the success of those within.” That includes everyone from internal customers who work in our offices, to external customers who interact in the environments that we oversee.
The physical location and appearance of the company environment impacts brand, which impacts talent acquisition and customers coming into the facility. There is no successful company if there is no power, no lighting, no HVAC; if the doors don’t open or the badge readers don’t work.
Companies can bring FM to the table from a strategic perspective. This would allow us to develop the environment that will enable the success of corporate initiatives and to design the FM department (and budgets) in alignment with the overall company strategy.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Are you noticing any major trends?
I see FM becoming increasingly connected with smart technology and enhanced technological skills growing in demand for FM professionals. Smart building technology allows us to manage—and, in some cases, diagnose or maintain—buildings remotely.
Additionally, augmented reality provides unique resources to enhance how FM is performed. Even currently, my own company has scanned 3D walkthroughs of our locations. I can digitally walk through a building I’ve never been in and identify the condition of the flooring, check to make sure the lighting is adequate, view the doors, the walls, the paint, the ceiling. I can do all this from my desk in Dallas.
This kind of advancement adds a new layer of complexity and demand for skills in FM professionals.
What are you most proud of?
I’m not sure. I don’t think too much in terms of lists or ranks in my head; there is no list of the hardest thing I’ve done, the best or worst things, etc. I think in connections or webs because nothing I’ve ever done has stood alone. It is built on all that came before and will provide support for everything that follows.
That being said, there was a period of my life when my job role underwent a sudden and unexpected expansion. This happened while I was attending university full time with a young child and a fairly new marriage. Balancing the needs of being an employee, parent, and wife, all while relocating, defined what is probably the toughest period of my professional life. However, I made it through that period and onto the other side successfully and am richer in experience and outlook. I would probably label the completion of those two years as my greatest accomplishment.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Do not be intimidated by the size and complexity of the FM industry. Don’t get hung up on job titles; build yourself a matrix of skills you have, tasks or task types you can do, and skills you want to obtain. Define the type of environment where you would flourish. Then seek roles that best fit into that matrix, because for whatever uniquely personal combination you arrive at in your matrix, there will be a role or a company that has that need and probably struggles to define it well enough to locate the right candidate. Building up your KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) and then being able to articulate them well will be a very powerful tool as your career progresses.
Are you or a colleague an FM professional interested in being profiled for the “Faces of Facilities” series? Please contact Editor Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com