Professionals in big data are big deals in today's largely sluggish U.S. job market.
The demand for talent capable of gleaning useful information from businesses' increasingly large and diverse data sets — generated by sensors, electronic payments, online sales, social media and more — is outpacing the supply of workers.
By 2018, the United States might face a shortfall of about 35 percent in the number of people with advanced training in statistics and other disciplines who can help companies realize the potential of digital information generated from their own operations as well as from suppliers and customers, according to McKinsey & Co. That deficit represents more than 140,000 workers, the consulting firm estimates.
Workers in big data are hard to come by in the short term. A recent survey by CareerBuilder — an affiliate of Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune — found that "jobs tied to managing and interpreting big data" were among the "hot areas for hiring" in the second half of 2013.
"There aren't enough of them. Period. End of story," said Linda Burtch, founder of Burtch Works, an Evanston, Ill., executive recruitment firm. "The demand for quantitative professionals has grown so across industries that there aren't enough kids coming out of school studying math and statistics."
Thanks partly to advances in software and database systems, companies find it easier to capture, store, crunch and share the data in ways that help their business serve customers, predict their behavior, innovate, improve productivity and cut costs. The computing power of the average desktop computer, for example, has risen by 75 times from 2000 to 2013, McKinsey said.
Big data pays well. Median base salaries for nonmanagement workers is $90,000, according to a 47-page Burtch Works report published in July that surveyed 2,845 of the quantitative professionals in the firm's database.
Nearly 9 of 10 big data professionals have at least a master's in a quantitative discipline such as statistics, applied mathematics, operations research or economics, according to Burtch Works.
At companies, they work in such areas as analytical database marketing, analytics management and business intelligence. Nearly 40 percent are foreign citizens, Burtch Works found in its study.
Nine out of 10 quantitative professionals are recruited over LinkedIn at least once a month, Burtch said.
"Candidates with a strong breadth of knowledge in big data are challenging to find," said Rona Borre, chief executive of Instant Technology, a Chicago talent management firm.
She said junior-level professionals in big data can start out earning $80,000, with senior technicians making as much as $140,000.