Leading in the Race for Quantum Talent

New business applications for quantum technologies, coupled with an increase in investment in the field, has created a race for materials and talent.

quantum computing abstract
vchalup via Adobe Stock

Quantum mechanics, the rules that dictate the interactions of very small things, has driven decades of ground-breaking innovation. The transistors inside of computers and smart phones, MRIs used for medical imaging, and atomic clocks used for GPS all rely on greater understanding of, and progress within, the field of quantum information sciences and technology (QIST). Recent work has only strengthened belief in QIST’s industry-disrupting potential, primarily thanks to work in quantum algorithms whose computational capacity could someday exceed that of the best classical alternatives.

The emergence of new business applications coupled with an increase in investment has created a race for materials and talent. Maintaining a lead requires moving beyond the hype and understanding how quantum technologies will shape long-term talent strategies of organizations in every industry.

Think Big (About the Very Small)

QIST’s potential for advancing computing, ultra-secure communications, and extremely precise measurement and sensing capabilities will likely benefit every industry:

  • Improvements in optimization and simulation have nearly ubiquitous applications, particularly in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and materials engineering.

  • As the digitalization of society increases, the need to secure electronic communications --whether a banking transaction or personal health information -- will only become greater.

  • The impact of better measurement and sensing equipment for basic, scientific research will have its own plethora of trickle-down effects on consumers.

To capitalize on these opportunities, organizations need to adapt not only their business models, but their methods for recruiting and retaining talent. Today, innovation in quantum technologies is concentrated in a relatively small number of research teams spread across academia, industry, and government. While this model generates results, it often excludes the anticipated end users. In other words, the vaccinologist in need of a more advanced computer simulation to design better vaccines, or the economist in need of an analysis of market data, is not consulted on the intended purpose of the newest quantum algorithms.

By adapting their operations and structure to be inclusive of how QIST can advance their strategies, organizations can deliver the next generation of applications to compete in their industry in the quantum era.

Speak Quantum Talent’s Language

Quantum specialists are in short supply, but they’re out there. To attract them, recruiters can take a page from the artificial intelligence (AI) playbook. Much like QIST, AI is comprised of subfields, each with different expertise; one does not look for a single “AI expert” to fill a position. Hiring managers have developed language to differentiate AI specialties and facilitate better connections between people and projects. QIST leaders need to do the same.

Upskill and Reskill

Successful development of applications across the various fields of QIST requires vastly different skills, and no single scientist can be expected to possess them all. And it’s not only about having a team of QIST researchers; devising real-world use cases for “quantum innovations” requires the perspective of a broad and diverse team. The most effective QIST teams combine quantum sensing, computing, and communications specialists with domain subject-matter experts -- in biology or finance, for example -- who can identify potential use cases to deliver real-world results to the organization’s stakeholders and customers.

To achieve a perfect balance and sustainable growth in QIST talent, organizations will need to provide education options to their current employees with field-specific experience. Whether provided internally or via strong partnerships, it is key to equip the existing workforce with the tools to collaborate on impactful QIST projects. Programs that have historically focused on one skillset, such as cloud computing, must be retooled to produce hybrid expertise better suited to new blends of foundational skillsets. For example, equipping a cloud engineer with the know-how to recognize potential cybersecurity threats posed by future quantum computers. Such hybrid curricula would build deep technical know-how in any field while simultaneously encouraging general understanding of quantum technologies.

Diverse Collaborations

Building an integrated team internally is only part of the puzzle. To prioritize the applications most likely to make the largest impact, executive leadership must craft a dynamic vision for quantum technology for their organization before it achieves full maturity. Success depends on leveraging an ecosystem of external partners which, together, can identify the highest-priority use cases and their potential development timelines.

Such innovative thinking doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens when people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives collaborate. To deliver the quantum future, companies must also make consistent and intentional investments in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. In doing so, they can build research and development teams that have the range of creative and problem-solving approaches needed to deliver transformative results. In providing role models and clear pathways to meaningful technical careers and equal opportunities to contribute across the organization, organizations can strengthen the pipeline of talent for the future.

Prepare for the Future Now

It’s impossible to predict all the ways that quantum technologies will impact everyday life. Organizations that don’t start planning for this disruption today will face a polarizing disparity in their field. Those leaders that best anticipate how to adapt their workforce stand to reap a substantial competitive advantage. The key to maintaining that advantage will be to have diverse, cross-trained staff who can leverage external partners to uncover the most meaningful areas for applying QIST.

Read more about:

Quantum Computing

About the Author(s)

Jay Porter

Senior Lead Quantum Strategist, Booz Allen Hamilton

Prior to joining Booz Allen in 2020, Jay Porter worked as a research data scientist developing and delivering bleeding-edge AI/ML and simulation solutions for civil, defense, and intel customers. Jay has a PhD in physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and more than a dozen publications advancing novel techniques for describing the fascinating behavior of quantum systems.

Isabella Bello Martinez

Senior Lead Quantum Technologist, Booz Allen Hamilton

Isabella Bello Martinez is a Senior Lead Quantum Technologist at Booz Allen Hamilton who specializes in strategic thinking for long-term quantum growth strategies and quantum technologies application research. She leads external outreach for Booz Allen’s quantum team and the delivery of analytical products for a variety of clients. Isabella helps clients imagine how emerging technologies will impact their businesses, and then helps them create the teams, policies, and practices to make that vision a reality. An engineer by training, Isabella earned her ScB from Brown University and her MS from the University of Notre Dame.

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