HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Six Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) employees graduated from the Department of the Navy’s (DoN) Bridging the Gap leadership development program in a virtual ceremony on April 6.

In its ninth year, the 11-month program serves as a conduit to prepare high-potential individuals for senior leadership roles by connecting them with the necessary leadership competencies, knowledge, and skills. The program is sponsored by the DoN’s Executive Diversity Advisory Council and Executive Management Program Office.

Justin Francis, Procurement Group deputy director for Program Executive Office for Tactical Aircraft Programs PEO(T); and Venkatesan Manivannan, advanced technology (digital) lead, completed the program to compete for positions in the Senior Executive Service (SES). Francis aspires to achieve a director position within the Procurement Group. Manivannan is also looking to advance into a senior leadership position as a senior scientific technical manager or as a senior executive. 

Francis highly recommends the program to anyone considering applying to an SES position. “The opportunity to learn about the SES and all that is required and expected to join that community will significantly help inform your decision and assist with meeting that goal should you decide to go down that path,” he said.

John Plets, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Engineering Department head, Fleet Readiness Center Western Pacific (FRC WESTPAC), Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi, Japan, had a more holistic goal. “For me, advancement means finding the place my skills, experience, and values fit best to energize a team,” he said. “I’m open-minded with where my career takes me, but I’m interested in international security cooperation.”

Plets recommends that NAVAIR employees “seize the learning” and seek out developmental activities on their own if they don’t see a clear path for career progression. “Bridging the Gap connected me with experienced coaches, inspiring executives, and supportive peers,” he said. “All those valuable resources were right there in front of me, I just needed to step out and find the bridge.”

Manivannan said a main takeaway from the program was the executive core qualifications (ECQ) preparation. ECQs define the competencies needed to build a federal corporate culture that drives toward results, serves customers, and builds successful teams and coalitions within and outside the organization. They are designed to assess executive experience and potential, not technical expertise. The five ECQs are: Leading change; leading people; results-driven; business acumen; and building coalitions. 

For Francis, the biggest benefits from Bridging the Gap were 360-style organizational climate and leadership styles surveys and brief-out sessions. He appreciated the assistance with resume and ECQ writing and being able to develop his interview proficiency.

Plets was also looking to add new skills to the leadership program. “As I moved up to a supervisor in the Navy, I received plenty of necessary policy training, but not a lot of leadership training,” he said. “I worked to rectify that by seeking mentors, and leadership activities outside of the government. I made progress, but still felt I was lacking a keystone program to really put me in tune with the duet of leadership in the Navy between civilian and military executives. I recognized that Bridging the Gap could put me on track for those keystone skills, and it did.”

Plets would recommend that others at NAVAIR apply for the leadership program. “It builds a bridge to SES opportunities whether you’re waiting at the edge of the gorge or still a few steps away by clearly opening your eyes to what makes, and is expected from, an executive leader,” he said.

The Bridging the Gap keynote address was presented by Robert D. Hoag, acting assistant secretary for Manpower & Reserve Affairs (M&RA) for the DoN. He thanked the graduating class for putting in the time and effort on their “leadership journey.” 

“I hope this turns into another adventure in the Department of the Navy, if not, in the Department of Defense, where the country will continue to benefit from the dedication and service you are already showing,” Hoag said.

The following NAVAIR members were included among the graduating class:

  • Brian Arena, Technical Director, Patuxent River, Md.
  • Erik Barkhimer, Procurement Group Division Head, Patuxent River, Md.
  • Justin Francis, Deputy Director Procurement Group for PEO(T), Patuxent River, Md.
  • James Humbert, Integrated Product Team (IPT) Office Lead, Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE), Cherry Point, N.C.
  • Venkatesan Manivannan, Advanced Technology (Digital) Lead, Patuxent River, Md.
  • John Plets, Engineering Department Head, FRC WESTPAC, NAF Atsugi, Japan

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