Chronic workforce issues being addressed

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

A business and municipal event have joined forces to make a full-day regional economic develop- ment conference.

‘Spark the North/State of the Lake – Uniting Communities for Regional Growth’ is April 25 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Legacy Centre in Slave Lake.

In 2022, Community Futures Lesser Slave Lake held the first Spark the North near High Prairie.

The goal of Spark the North is “to address the workforce issues in the area,” says Divine Kitchen, with Community Futures.

In 2023, the Town of Slave Lake held State of the Lake. A Slave Lake Lakeside Leader article at the time described it as “an economic development brainstorming luncheon.”

In October 2023, Community Futures had to postpone Spark the North because of low ticket sales, says Kitchen. The Town of Slave Lake then reached out about combining the two events.

On April 25, people will hear from workforce experts and a panel of local municipal leaders.

“We want to address population growth,” says Kitchen. “The population isn’t really growing,” which has led to labour shortages.

The panelists include Town of Slave Lake Mayor Frankie Ward, Town of Slave Lake Councillor Kim Hughes (representing the Slave Lake Region Tourism Society), Big Lakes County Councillor Richard Mifflin, Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk, and Dr. Michelle Mitchell, dean of health, human services and university studies at Northern Lakes College.

“This is our first time to do it (a panel),” says Kitchen.

On the workforce side of the conference, the speakers are Kristen Cumming, Dr. Patricia Makokis, Janice Makokis, and Crystal Burrows.

Dr. Makokis is a well-known pioneer in Indigenous education, says Kitchen. Her daughter, Janice, is a legal scholar.

They will speaking about ways of engaging with the Indigenous workforce, including reconciliation, advocacy, and healing.

Burrows works with CAREERS.

CAREERS website says, “CAREERS is a unique, industry-led public/private not-for-profit foundation established in 1997. It brings together industry, schools, government, and communities to guide youth into successful career paths. Together with our school partners we are motivating students by making the workplace an extension of the classroom, preparing them for a future where they are in-demand.”

Cummings is a human resources specialist who spoke at Spark the North in 2022.

The conference is partially paid for by a grant.

Tickets are only $25, which includes breakfast, lunch, and a snack.

“We want it to be more affordable to everybody,” says Kitchen.

The conference is open to anyone in the area who is interested in economic development or work- force development. To register, go to

If you have any questions contact Kitchen at 1-780-849-3232 or

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