Talent + Workforce

Strategic Workforce Development: A Conversation with GCEP’s Christina Henderson

Christina Henderson, Director of Talent Development at the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership, shares insights into the regional strategies for workforce development. She discusses the integration of education and industry to foster a skilled and diverse workforce, the adaptation to changing business needs, and the strategic partnerships that enhance the local economy.

Christina H.

Christina Henderson, the Director of Talent Development at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce

Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership (GCEP): Can you introduce yourself and describe your role at the Greater Chattanooga Economic Partnership in fostering regional workforce development?

Christina Henderson: I’m Christina Henderson, the Director of Talent Development on the GCEP Economic Development Team. I work closely with a variety of regional partners to both recruit new industry and retain existing employers.

GCEP: What are the overarching goals of the Greater Chattanooga region’s workforce development initiatives?

Christina Henderson: Our goals include ensuring that, regardless of race, age, or location, residents can access quality education at all levels, aligning education programs with business needs, and providing clear career pathways for individuals. We focus on driving employer engagement and student success through work-based learning, apprenticeships, and talent retention programming, and establishing education centers of excellence in automation, freight systems, and healthcare.

GCEP: Can you discuss any specific challenges you’ve faced in integrating non-traditional talent pipelines into the local economy?

Christina Henderson: The pandemic prompted employers to rethink their talent recruitment strategies and approach to talent pipeline development. During this period, Project Return expanded to Chattanooga to provide employment training, education, coaching, and transportation support to help the formerly incarcerated successfully transition back into communities and work. The challenge now is to maintain the momentum as workforce demands stabilize and some employers return to more traditional hiring practices.



GCEP: How do you coordinate with regional partners and educational institutions to align workforce strategies across different areas within the Greater Chattanooga region?

Christina Henderson: Coordination and alignment involve listening and learning from the organizations that have identified local needs and effective solutions. I serve as a community connector, promoter, and cheerleader. For instance, Chattanooga 2.0 is developing Viable Pathways to serve Hamilton County students, a recent pathway developed in partnership with TCAT Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools, and local employers.

GCEP: Can you highlight any non-traditional workforce initiatives that you’re excited about and why?

Christina Henderson: The Viable Pathway model excites me because it focuses on developing programs based on employer-identified skills and connecting young people to jobs. This approach requires partners to be flexible and outcome-focused rather than just concentrating on enrollment and completion rates.

GCEP: Are there new or emerging industries in Chattanooga that are influencing your approach to talent development?

Christina Henderson: As manufacturers increasingly move toward automation, it’s critical for training providers and education partners to offer upskilling opportunities for residents.

GCEP: What are some of the key strategies for attracting and retaining top talent across the diverse geographic and economic landscapes of the Greater Chattanooga region?

Christina Henderson: We leverage our natural resources and community events to make the region appealing. The Chattanooga Tourism Company does an excellent job of marketing the city and its recreational spaces. Engaging students at our public and private universities is crucial to retaining talent locally.

GCEP: Looking forward, what are the long-term objectives for talent development within the Greater Chattanooga region, and how will current programs evolve to meet these needs?

Christina Henderson: Long-term, we aim to increase enrollment at our universities and encourage students to remain in the area post-graduation. Retaining skilled individuals is vital for attracting new industries to our region.

GCEP: How do you gauge the success of your programs across different communities and what are the key performance indicators?

Christina Henderson: We track awarded degrees, population growth, and average wages in the region. Other indicators include the number of registered apprenticeship programs and corporate partnerships with local education institutions.

GCEP: Is there any additional information or an upcoming project that you think the regional community should be excited about regarding workforce and talent development?

Christina Henderson: The growth of the apprenticeship model is an exciting development. The diversity of organizations that support employers in developing registered apprenticeship programs and the flexibility of the delivery system suggest that this model can scale across various industries.

Interview by Marcherie Jamene Savage