The quantum skills shortage has been a hot topic of conversation in recent months, so it was good to see two bits of recent news on positive developments in this area.
One came from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, which became the latest school to unveil a PhD degree in quantum science and engineering. The other came from Northrup Grumman, which last month announced a $12.5 million commitment to the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus for research and education in quantum fields.
While these moves should have a positive long-term effect, the skills shortage is a challenge that runs deep. Recent data from the U.S. federal government noted that the number of international students wanting to study in the U.S. has fallen sharply in recent years. Also, focus on STEM education programs throughout the U.S. education system continues to leave a lot to be desired, and such programs can be an important first step toward growing a quantum-ready workforce in the long term.
“The United States and to some degree the rest of the world has a serious STEM education problem,” said Terrill Frantz, Associate Professor of eBusiness and Cybersecurity, Quantum Information Science Programs at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “Now, quantum is STEM on steroids, so the challenge is even greater when you look at it from the supply side. It’s a scary thought but we don’t have as many capable people as we should.”
He added that quantum industry training programs can help develop strong job candidates from the crop of engineers in related fields, but added, “We should be training everybody in STEM and grow quantum from those that can get through that STEM filter, those that have computational thinking capability and that kind of training to go further.”
However, U.S. education programs for the most part aren’t built around STEM, and particularly at the university level it’s not an issue making as many headlines as multi-million university sports programs.
“When you look at the U.S. education from afar we’re more interested in building rounded individuals,” said Frantz. “We also spend a lot more time talking about paying college football athletes for playing than other things. Our system is not set up well for STEM. A few schools are, but that’s a much bigger issue than [quantum-specific education]. That’s the environment we’re operating in.”