By Carolyn Mathas

Although quantum computing technology is in its infancy stage, a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group estimates that quantum computing could create value of $450 billion to $850 billion in the next 15 to 30 years to users and providers.  Development of scalable quantum computers and practical applications for its use requires the creation of a quantum workforce and recruiting that workforce has its own set of challenges.

Unique Quantum Recruiting Challenges

Recruiters in the quantum industry face such unique challenges as the small size of the market, setting realistic expectations, how to ready applicants for an evolving marketplace amid a gradual transition from academia to industry, and even how to support diversity.

As a small niche, for example, there are just too few people trained for the growing number of available jobs. Academia so far provides the majority of talent and there is substantial competition for these applicants and their narrow-focused expertise.

According to John Barnes, founder of Entangled Positions, “For most recruiters, the challenges center around identifying talent and understanding the market. Market challenges, however, are slightly different and include getting more people on board and finding ways for organizations and talent to actually meet each other. There’s really no cookie cutter way to attract potential applicants.”

Barnes raises another challenge–ethics. “I really care about responsible recruiting. Because there are so few people compared with other industries, the market is exposed to heavy recruitment. More organizations are outsourcing their recruitment processes, but most recruiters don’t have long-standing connections. I see recruiters try to find out where candidates are interviewing before they’re even sent out on a job interview. I don’t understand this. If you don’t know what’s happening in the market without tricking people, you shouldn’t be recruiting.”

In addition to ethics, another challenge is hype. Vincent Yam, founder of Tekna Search explains, “If up to me, I’d like more realistic ideas in the space. There’s far too much quantum hype. It’s a very long journey, a long road ahead and the hype is causing a lot of confusion.”

Silvia Zorzetti, Deputy Head, Quantum Computing Co-Design Department and Deputy Lead, SQMS QIS Ecosystem and Workforce development at The Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center identifies their top recruiting challenges as competition for applicants, the need to bring in engineering talent, and attracting more diversification. “Diversification is something I’m very interested in. We have a scholarship specifically designed to include minorities. The STEM and quantum computing communities are very open to minorities.”

Given where the industry currently is, both sides of the equation need to be realistic. Quantum companies are looking for people that have quantum experience plus a solid grasp of business. It should be no surprise that there are not so many people that fit the description. Individuals need a dose of realism as well. Some, armed with a BS degree, think that because they’ve spent a little time reading about quantum, they are ready to jump straight into a quantum job. They’re not.

A major challenge between academia and industry involves how to bridge the skills gap.

A Changing Skills Landscape

Sometimes recruiters take a broader view of their mission. Araceli Venegas-Gomez, for example, created QURECA as not only a recruiting arm, but to provide training to companies and individuals. “Two to three years ago, most of the science was still in the early research phase. So, you have a lot of PhDs that focus on something very specific, however not all companies will need that specific skills set and most are broadening their requirements. In addition to recruitment, we provide such services as quantum-technology training, business development training and business intelligence for strategy building. This is for people with existing experience and skill sets that are fixed and they want to steer into quantum technologies.”

“The potential for people coming from other areas is increasing,” according to Barnes. “Some may have machine learning skills, others Monte Carlo experience, algorithms, etc. People hire people. The question is, can the person do the job, what are their characteristics, and these things aren’t necessarily technical.”

According to Zorzetti, requirements are starting to relax. The most important skills their hires have are curiosity, creativity and the ability to collaborate. SQMS hiring managers are successfully hiring and are more realistic about their hires, saying: “I need this technical skill, and I need to identify the candidate with whom I can build the rest of it.” That is a change from getting everything you want in a candidate. The field is now breaking barriers between academic academia and industry and we’re seeing a lot more collaboration as a result.”

At SQMS there are two main scientific and technical thrusts, quantum technology and quantum science.

Source: SQMS Research Center

The focus areas include materials, algorithms, devices, physics and sensing. There is also a QIS Ecosystem thrust that includes efforts in workforce development.

The quantum industry based on these expanding skills is beginning to transition from its research core to a more multi-discipline approach. Quantum computing today combines the skills from many disciplines including physics, statistics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, software, hardware, and virtually everything in between.  In response, some recruiters are finding new ways to put expectations and players on a more solid and realistic footing.

A Time of Transition

While the transition is real and the job market in quantum is expected to explode, the explosion will likely take a full 10-20 years. Those that will have post-explosion quantum jobs are currently in grammar school and there’s a lot to be done to bring the vocation along.

In addition to training provided by recruiters such as QURECA, there is a wealth of career advice, free for the taking. The Qiskit YouTube channel, for example, delivers education videos, tutorials, and plenty of community resources. Qiskit.org provides information regarding education, workforce development initiatives, and community events. Several internship programs exist to spur passion and build confidence and knowledge.

Fermi’s programs include SQMS workforce development, and the SQMS Carolyn B Parker Fellowship program and industry events and education opportunities.

For now, there is a bandwagon to climb onto. When asked if there was anything that surprises him in quantum computing recruiting/hiring, Yam shared, “What does surprise me is the lack of computer companies and medical companies that are not getting ahead of the curve. They may be missing out by the time they jump in.”

Key to that jumping in will be recruiting, training, supporting transition, and creating the best interdisciplinary workforce possible. Front line recruiters are up to the task, it’s the companies and applicants that need to buy in, not into the hype, but rather the promise.

July 29, 2021