Like a coveted free agent in sports, Kelly Halfin had a multitude of choices when she decided to take a job in tech in the U.S.The Belgian had five American companies lined up, eager to sign her on to lead their data analysis team. She chose Livestream, where, as head of business intelligence, she reviews data to help the New York-based live-events site make product decisions.
"It was somewhat surprising when entering a new market, but not in how companies are putting a focus on data," says Halfin, 26, who has three years of experience in the field.
Data analysts are as important as the best engineers and designers. Job recruiters would say they're more important.
A recent McKinsey Global Institute study called data analytics "the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity."
Experts are crucial to dive into and parse more than 250 billion publicly available likes, follows and other social relationships between people and things, products or brands that are growing at the rate of 2 billion data points a day, according to social-technology company 140 Proof.
"It's never been a better time to be a data scientist," known in the industry as quantitative jocks, says John Manoogian III, co-founder and chief technology officer at 140 Proof. "Companies want to turn this data into insights about what people like and what might be relevant to them, but they need very specialized analytical talent to do this."
Hence, the recruiting tug-of-war over Halfin and thousands like her.
The field has "exploded" the last 18 months, yet there is a dearth of talent because the job requires math skills that college graduates often lack, says Jim Zimmermann, director of SkillSoft, which provides online learning and training.
Lacking potential recruits, companies are "forced to home-grow their own talent through online training," Zimmermann says.
And the job pays well -- whether in San Francisco (an average annual salary of $104,000, New York ($102,000) or Chicago ($86,000), according to Indeed.com. The average salary is $74,000, says site Simply Hired.
Jobs site Glassdoor lists 17,699 jobs in Big Data. To be sure, demand for tech jobs remains high across the board: engineers, designers, ethical hackers and apps makers.
Career site Dice lists more than 84,000 tech jobs in North America, up 2% from a year ago. The fastest-growing areas from a year ago are iPhone-related skills (78%), cloud computing (68%), mobile applications (42%) and Android -related skills (42%).
Demand for tech workers is expected to grow at a 19% clip through 2020 -- in line with an insatiable need for college graduates with degrees in the field -- according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And the annual pay is good, at an average $88,909, says job-search site Indeed.com.
Even manufacturing is thirsting for workers. It has nearly doubled to more than 170,000 from two years ago, based on CareerBuilder and Demand Portal data. In demand: programmers, computer -assisted technicians and machinists.