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youth unemployment

It’s still a tough job market for young workers, but there are some key skills in high demand.Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Canada's latest jobs numbers showed improvement over all, but for the country's unemployed youth, the jobless rate was little changed.

Statistics Canada said Friday that the unemployment rate for youths between 15 to 24 years of age slipped 0.9 percentage points to 12.6 per cent, mainly because more young people stopped looking for work, either saying they didn't want to work, were unavailable or didn't look for work because they were now at school.

Over all, Canada's unemployment rate dropped last month to 6.5 per cent, its lowest level since November, 2008. Further, the majority of new jobs were full time and in the private sector.

While the data show that "we're definitely trending in the right direction," said Kelly Dixon, president of job search site Workopolis, for the country's youth, it's still a challenging job market.

"We still have 350,000 unemployed youth in Canada," she said. "This is the group that's almost two times the unemployment rate of the national average – it's always toughest to get your first job."

For youngsters in search of a job, there are some key skills that show up repeatedly in job ads, Ms. Dixon said.

Top of the list is being bilingual, she said, particularly for customer service positions and those dealing with the public. "It's definitely a very sought-after skill across Canada."

There's also a demand for people involved in an array of food-preparation roles from chefs to sous chefs, to cooks and kitchen help. "There is a growing need in this country for chefs," Ms. Dixon said.

However, the biggest demand comes from the technology sector, particularly Web and software development jobs. Skills in short supply range from quality assurance (QA) to user experience design (UX) to a variety of computer programming language skills including Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Structured Query Language (SQL), Linux, Unix, and JavaScript. Technical support and customer relationship management skills are also highly sought after.

"If you're in the area of software development, there's a strong demand for those skills," she said. "It's a great area to be educated in."

Those in a quality assurance role ensure a website works correctly, while those focusing on the user experience ensure a site is easy to use, clear and does what people want and expect.

Demand for employees with those skills simply outstrips supply right now, she added. With many companies needing Web and mobile Internet sites, finding the right people with these skills is difficult, she added.

Across the country, there are also more job openings posted for certain occupations. That includes positions for truck drivers, nurses, retail sales clerks, skilled trades workers, dental hygienists, hairdressers, barbers and beauticians, couriers, customer service representatives, health care technicians, administrative professionals, sales representatives, and advertising, marketing and public relations managers.

"Some of those [skilled trades] jobs are extremely well paid," she said, and many employers, in an effort to have enough workers, are starting to recruit high school students who show an aptitude for a particular trade.

For anyone looking for work, knowing the skills that are in demand today or likely to be in demand a few years from now can help them decide whether any additional training or education would help them in their job search, she said.

Earlier this week, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz faced a backlash after suggesting young people should consider doing unpaid work in order to gain more experience.

While volunteer work or unpaid internships can help a young person "stand out from the larger group" and "demonstrates you have initiative" when looking for a job, "working for free is not a strong policy," Ms. Dixon said.

Companies serve themselves and employees better when they offer paid internships and more junior positions as a way to test young and new recruits, she said.

"I think that Canadian companies should make more of an effort to hire and train [young workers] or put in co-op programs to help solve the problem."