NAVAIR

Professional Development Group supports new hires at NAWCAD Lakehurst

Professional Development Group volunteers support Navy Lakehurst Historical Society's restoration of historical aircraft to display across the Lakehurst side of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (U.S. Navy photo)

Professional Development Group volunteers support Navy Lakehurst Historical Society's restoration of historical aircraft to display across the Lakehurst side of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (U.S. Navy photo)

Jun 20, 2018

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Personnel participate in PDG's 2017 NAV(F)AIR, a career fair-style set up where employees (not just from PDG) can learn about the various branches and departments across NAWCAD Lakehurst and opportunities for job rotations. The next NAV(F)AIR is being planned for the fall. (U.S. Navy photo)

Personnel participate in PDG's 2017 NAV(F)AIR, a career fair-style set up where employees (not just from PDG) can learn about the various branches and ...

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – For many new hires in the government, learning their new job is only half the battle. They also need to learn the organizational structure, how to use government information systems and a litany of acronyms. On top of that they may be new to the area and living on their own for the first time.

The Professional Development Group (PDG) at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst has worked over the past 17 years to help make this transition easier.

The PDG started in 2001 with approximately thirty members. The original idea was to bring all new science and engineering hires together into one cohesive peer network that can provide support for whatever type of help they needed, said Sara Federico, PDG chair in 2003.

“That was biggest thing in the beginning, trying to establish that rapport with the younger people and bring them along,” said Federico. “Learning the Navy can be a little intimidating if you haven’t been around the military before.”

The original PDG held lunch and learns and “Meet the Leaders” events where NAWCAD leadership would explain the work their department/division did and how it fit into the overall Navy structure.

“It was just a few people; we were kind of like the tip of the spear,” said John Laird, the first PDG chair in 2001. “We tried to form an ‘esprit de corps’ to try to get people networking.”

The group hosted social events so new hires could get to know their peer and to improve their sense of community, said Ryan Richards, PDG chair in 2004.

“The group offers you a group of peers, people who are really your equals that you can tap into as resources,” said Richards.

Over the past 17 years, the PDG has grown into a group of hundreds holding multiple events a month from professional development opportunities to social outings. They have interfaced with and served as a model for other Professional Development Councils across the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

“When I became the SES at Lakehurst I thought it was important to expand the PDG to new employees from all NAWCAD Lakehurst disciplines, not just engineering. Everyone can benefit from extra networking and peer mentoring,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, NAVAIR Support Equipment and Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Department director.  “The PDG has really grown into a significant part of the NAWCAD Lakehurst organization and I’m proud of their dedication to improving the new employee experience.”

Acclimating to the Work Environment

Many former PDG chairs agree, the PDG’s main goal it to assist new employees with acclimating into the NAWCAD Lakehurst workforce.

“It’s a great way to meet new people your age who have similar goals,” said Alexa Piccoli, current PDG chair. “A government job is different than some other climates of work, so having other people who are going through it with you to help navigate it is really important.”

This is helpful not only for recent college graduates, but employees who may have started in industry, said Julie Smiga, PDG chair in 2014.

“Sometimes it helps to have things come from your peers rather than management,” said Smiga. “I think there’s a lot of questions that you think are stupid, that you don’t want to bother management with. Whether it’s filling out some kind of paperwork, or some kind of form, or finding something on the shared drive or getting an account on a website, stuff that you know the people who have come before you have done.”

The PDG recently created an internal community portal to allow all members of the PDG to benefit from the information being shared across the group and a space for them to ask questions to their peers, said Cathryn Lankert, PDG chair in 2017.

“Especially with a lot of PDG members being directly out of college or close to out of college, we’re more oriented in that direction of ‘I just want to go somewhere online and see a calendar, and all of the things going on, and who the committee members are,’ everything like that,” said Lankert.

The site contains important announcements, events, news, discussion posts, local housing and rental information, rotation opportunities and more. It has been a successful model that other NAVAIR intern groups are adopting at their site locations, said Lankert.

Networking

The PDG offers networking opportunities for new employees to interface with their peers and leadership to include formal events and recreational activities like bowling or golf. PDG members are also provided opportunities to work on command-wide initiatives with leadership and meet with distinguished visitors at Lakehurst.

“Being able to meet with leadership more regularly and have them not only show interest in our initiatives but back them and give them support, it’s nice to know as somebody who aspires to be in those positions that’s something you’d want to do and they’re people you want to work for,” said Matthew Southard, PDG chair in 2016. “It puts the personality behind a name.”

Along with providing professional networking, the PDG offers new employees a built-in social group, which can be essential for employees new to the area, said Connor Hagerty, outgoing PDG chair who moved from Nebraska to New Jersey for his job with NAWCAD Lakehurst.

“For the first four to five months there was a lot of transition from college to owning my own apartment for the first time and living on my own and knowing nobody,” said Hagerty. “So the first months were a little rocky, and then when I got pulled into the PDG it was much, much nicer for me. It was like night and day. I had people to socialize with. It was a really good decision for me.”

The PDG has several committee leads who plan events that all members are invited to, including an annual beach day, weekend ski trips, music lessons, trips to watch sporting events, bowling, happy hours and more. PDG members can also take the initiative and plan outings for the entire group in areas they are interested in.

“In PDG you could do whatever you want, not in a bad way but a good way. You don’t have to be a committee chair to really plan something. It’s very, very flexible and it is what you make of it,” said Smiga.

Professional Development

The PDG provides professional development opportunities to include speed mentoring, lab tours, skills training and leadership classes. It focuses on increasing job rotation opportunities for its members and ensuring they are aware of ways to advance their careers.

One way they are accomplishing this is through their annual NAV(F)AIR, a career fair-style set up where employees (not just from PDG) can learn about the various branches and departments across the organization and opportunities for job rotations.

Last year’s event featured more than 30 booths from Research and Engineering, Program Management, Logistics and supporting competencies such as Information Technology/ Cybersecurity. There were also booths representing NAVAIR’s Diversity Advisory Teams and Leadership Development Programs.

“For me I had just started when it came about, so it was beneficial learning what other competencies do and seeing what rotations were out there, because a lot of the programs require rotations and it’s great to do some different stuff in your job,” said Piccoli.

This year’s NAV(F)AIR is being planned for the fall with even more departments from NAWCAD Lakehurst, said Piccoli.

Volunteering

While the PDG focuses on the development of its members, it also does its part to give back to the local community through its Volunteer Committee. Volunteer activities include Habitat for Humanity, the Navy Lakehurst Giving Tree and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education events with local schools.

PDG volunteers have set up an ongoing partnership with the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society (NLHS) to support the Navy Lakehurst Heritage Center on base, which contains historical artifacts and memorabilia from Navy Lakehurst’s nearly 100-year history.

PDG members also support NLHS’s restoration of historical aircraft to display on base and a project to maintain the Navy Chapel The Cathedral of the Air.

“For us it’s getting a perspective of history really,” said Bobby Samuel, PDG Volunteer Committee chair. “Most things today that are being sent to the ships and developed are successors of a previous design. So if you can learn about those and understand those I think it helps you better understand for the future and how you tackle projects.”

The team recently completed restoration of an A-7 aircraft and have plans for an F-14 cockpit, an A-3 and F-8, said Ron Montgomery, director of Navy Lakehurst Heritage Center.

“It’s been a win-win situation because we really do a professional job at no cost to the government. We’re all volunteers,” said Montgomery. “We have some budding engineers who are able to solve some of the problems we couldn’t solve.”

Looking to the Future

With years of experience and lessons learned, the PDG is planning more ways to help develop and retain the new NAWCAD Lakehurst workforce.

Efforts in the works include setting up a PDG peer to peer “buddy system,” increasing the amount of job rotation opportunities available and continuing to pull in new, active members, said Piccoli.

“Being able to look back from a retrospective, seeing the organization continue to be committed to its people makes me want to stay in the organization even at the higher levels and continue to perpetuate that,” said Federico. “I think, really, I’m proud. I’m proud of what anybody that has ever been involved in PDG has been able to make this become.”

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PDG members network with NAWCAD Lakehurst leadership during the Naval Civilian Managers Association (NCMA) / PDG Bowl-a-thon Nov. 16, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo)

PDG members network with NAWCAD Lakehurst leadership during the Naval Civilian Managers Association (NCMA) / PDG Bowl-a-thon Nov. 16, 2017. (U.S. Navy ...

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