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Why are we talking about the talent shortage in quantum, and what can we do about it?

Becky Bosco, Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Optica

Quantum 2.0 refers to developing and using many-particle quantum superposition and entanglement in large engineered systems to advance science and technology. Optica’s Quantum 2.0 in Denver, Colorado, USA, brought together academics, engineers, national laboratory and industry scientists, and others working to advance quantum science and technology.

Quantum information science and technology (QIST) is poised to change the world, but harnessing its potential requires a breadth and depth of talent that is difficult to recruit and retain. As the ecosystem of quantum technology players expands, so does the demand for experts in the field. In a lively panel discussion on workforce development at Quantum 2.0, experts from across the quantum industry came together to share their views on today’s current quantum workforce and future industry needs.

“As with many advanced technologies, there are opportunities for both positive and negative use cases, but with quantum in particular, there are tremendous opportunities and security concerns. We need well-trained personnel entering both government and industry careers. Competition for talent between government and companies naturally leads to higher salaries for people with knowledge of quantum,” said Brandon Rodenburg, Technologies Group Leader, MITRE, United States and Optica Ambassador. “There is a large-scale effort at the government level to develop a pipeline for the quantum workforce. You must get primary school kids interested in filling the jobs in 10 years. People are the critical thing that’s missing.”

“Quantum sensing, computing, and communications require different expertise, and an agency may not need experts in all three areas. Similarly, a single quantum scientist won’t be equally suited to roles across—or even within—the three technology clusters. For example, quantum communications encompass various efforts, from building a quantum internet to transitioning to post-quantum cryptography,” explained Sonika Johri, Founder, of Coherent Computing Inc, United States. “Further, domain experts working in organizations will also require a certain level of quantum education to incorporate these emerging technologies seamlessly. With early support from trusted advisors, organizations can identify which quantum skillsets correspond to their mission-critical use cases and ensure access to the right talent for research and prototyping.”

"Colorado boasts a highly educated workforce, with over 42% of its population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher¹.  The Denver metropolitan region is one of the four major industrial regions for quantum information science and technology in the US.  Companies with strong quantum investments in the area include Atom Computing, Infleqtion, Google, IBM, Northrop Grumman, Nvidia, and Quantinuum, among many others,” detailed Lincoln Carr, Professor of Physics and Quantum Engineering, at Colorado School of Mines, United States. “The Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado Boulder have some of the first few quantum engineering programs in the country, which bring highly skilled quantum aware and quantum proficient engineers to the industry, including collaborative R&D projects with industry partners in the region and nationally."

“In February 2022, the National Science and Technology Council’s Strategic Plan for QIST Workforce Development concluded that there is a QIST talent shortage at all levels. To translate QIST’s potential into real-world impact, federal and commercial leaders must coordinate the right quantum of expertise for strategic planning and R&D while building talent strategies that enable them to scale,” highlighted Saeed Pegahan, Quantum Application Scientist, TOPTICA, United States. "Ultimately, extracting QIST’s revolutionary potential will be a team effort, where a global network of scientists, technologists, and engineers has an important and exciting role!”

Panel moderator and 2023 Optica Ambassador, Benjamin Cromey, Senior Optical Engineer at Ball Aerospace, United States added, "When I started undergrad, the students studying quantum rarely went to our industrial affiliates event because they didn’t see any jobs for themselves in industry. It’s amazing to see how the quantum community has exploded in the last decade from niche lab applications to all of the cool opportunities represented by our spread of panelists.” 

In concluding remarks from the panelists, there is agreement that we have entered the second quantum revolution. Talent with relevant expertise can propel the industry to future technological breakthroughs. While talent is still in short supply, the gap appears to have narrowed in the past year, thanks partly to universities creating new master’s degree programs in quantum technologies. To ensure organizations have access to the quantum computing talent they need when needed, these panelists believe in creating pathways for new talent.

Keep an eye on how this field is unfolding, but stay open-minded and strive to develop a broad set of skills. That way, you’ll be versatile and have a lot of career options – whatever the quantum industry landscape looks like when you want to join.

Save the date: Quantum 2.0, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 23-27 June 2024

Image for keeping the session alive