Quantum Tech: A talent hunt?

Published: May 05, 2022

by Anuj Sethia & Cissy Suen, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE)

Quantum mechanics has revolutionized how we perceive nature by introducing concepts like entanglement and teleportation. However, the direct utilization of such counter-intuitive concepts of quantum theory is rarely seen in our day-to-day life.

As such, efforts to develop technologies leveraging quantum mechanics are well underway. Quantum technologies consisting of quantum computing, sensing and communication have the potential for disruptive transformation in an array of sectors including, but not limited to, defense, finance, governance and telecommunication.

Last year, the Canadian government established the National Quantum Strategy (NQS) with an initial investment of $360 million over seven years to amplify the growth of quantum technologies. Earlier this year, a report providing valuable insights from stakeholders in Canada’s quantum research and business communities was released by the government, addressing the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector. However, how do these investments impact the quantum job market, what jobs are created, and for whom?

Present stakeholders include companies, research labs, academic institutions, businesses accelerators and incubators. The earnest push on the development of quantum technologies is resulting in gradual expansion of end-user applications for clients. Creating awareness about the quantum potential among clients is essential for the early commercial adoption of quantum technologies. For example, quantum sensors are expected to have commercial-ready products in the next few years, with applications including, but not limited to, personalized medicine, early cancer detection, biological processes mapping, and improved geological exploration. An expedited adoption of such technologies requires immediate collaboration with clients.

Aside from improved communication between researchers and businesses, universities and industry will also have to strengthen their ties, particularly in terms of addressing the national need to recruit and retain talent.

John Hepburn, CEO of Mitacs, stresses:

“As with most emerging technologies, success of the nascent quantum industries will rely on talent, and the current supply is limited and in high international demand. While the post-secondary institutions need to expand their programs to provide relevant technical skills for students outside of the areas where quantum is currently an important component, stronger partnerships between industry and post secondary institutions are also needed to provide these students with stronger professional skills, through work-integrated learning opportunities. These will not only benefit the students, but will strengthen the linkage between universities and industry.”

In conclusion, the current outlook of the industry shows plenty of short-term and long-term opportunities for all. As scientists continue the fundamental research associated with these technologies and engineers improve designs for how to implement the research, the industry will undoubtedly grow. Business leaders will need to further their understanding of how to commercialize these technologies, while consultants and science communicators can help bridge the gap in understanding how a particular technology can improve a business’ bottom line. Social scientists will help us in addressing the ethical implications of these technologies, and crucially, government support is needed on all levels to cohesively tie together this growing ecosystem.

Quantum technologies are growing at a rapid pace, and requires a continuing collaboration between academia, industry and the government to realize the disruption in communication, computing and sensing technologies.