How quantum computing companies are tackling the skills shortage
(ZDNet) Quantum computing combines a variety of specialist fields – such as quantum theory, advanced mathematics, and computer science – that aren’t seen on your typical CV, shrinking the talent pool considerably for companies looking to hire in this nascent, but increasingly competitive, industry.
“It is incredibly small,” says Samantha Edmondson, head of talent at British quantum computing startup, Universal Quantum, which is on a mission to build the world’s first million-qubit quantum computer.
“Say if we were looking to hire an experienced quantum physicist that had the kind of expertise we needed, then yes, you’re looking at a small handful of academic groups across the world that you can really pick from.”
Another fundamental challenge for businesses is getting people interested in technical fields to begin with.
Not only are fewer young people taking IT and STEM-related subjects at school, but research also suggests that younger generations aren’t all too confident about their chances of landing a career in tech either.
Robert Liscouski, CEO of Quantum Computing Inc (QCI), says this is reflective of endemic problems in how young people are educated, which doesn’t necessarily include skills that are transferrable into the modern, professional workforce. “I think we’re not doing a very good job at all of preparing young people for these technology jobs,” he tells ZDNet.
“I think we still have this 19th Century education going on that’s really focused on educating children so they can work in factories.”
One solution for the shortage of specialist tech talent is for employers to bring on employees that are not necessarily already experts in the field, and then train them up on the job. Universal Quantum runs a three-month internship scheme that’s open to graduates who hold a master’s in physics or mathematics. Typically, interns take on a specific project that they are given total responsibility for, with Universal Quantum providing support through one-on-one mentoring and drop-in sessions with quantum physicists.
One alternative is to target students at university, college, or even school: something that QCI previously offered with its quantum computing clubs, where participants learn to use the company’s software, Qatalyst.
“We’re moving into actually the academic instructional program, where professors are using our software as part of their curriculum, and we’ve got a whole curriculum development programme for that,” says Liscouski.
Given the scant interest in technology careers shown by Generation Z, outreach is going to play a significant role in putting burgeoning, next-generation technologies like quantum computing on their radars – undoubtedly the first step to addressing any skills gaps.
Edmondson says tech organizations need to become involved in attracting young people at a grassroots level within schools, as well as getting more creative in how they portray opportunities in the tech sector. “It’s definitely a responsibility of businesses to try to nurture the talent pool coming forward and undertake outreach that will assist with that – and that’s just getting young people excited about things,” she says. Universal Quantum set up a lab in Spitalfields Market in London in a huge shipping container and were giving live demonstrations and experiments.