How to prepare the U.S. workforce for the Quantum Age

March 5, 2024

International, domestic experts laY out steps the U.S. can take now to better prepare its workforce for the coming transformation

Key Takeaways

The tiniest particles in the universe—atoms and particles that are smaller still—could transform sectors ranging from health care to defense, as scientists use their unique principals to develop new materials and supercharge computing power.

But a variety of leaders in the business, education, and technology industries are cautioning the U.S. workforce won’t be ready for Quantum Age. Currently, there’s only about one quantum candidate available for every three open quantum jobs, according to McKinsey, and it’s estimated that less than 50% of quantum job openings will be filled by 2025 unless significant steps are taken to improve the workforce.

International and domestic experts laid out steps the U.S. can take now to better prepare its workforce for the transformation the Quantum Age will bring at a recent Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center event.

Here are three of their recommendations:

  1. Start education early.

Dr. Emily Edwards, the co-lead of the National Q12 Education Partnership, an association started by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, urged teachers to introduce quantum concepts as early as elementary school.

“We really need to start earlier than high school,” said Edwards, an associate research professor at Duke University. “There’s research that shows how women, girls, and people of color self-select out of the fields that drive science, chemistry, physics, and computer science around middle school. Kids are deciding really early—whether they realize or not—if they have a sense of belonging.”

2. Encourage collaboration between academia, industry leaders, and governments.

Bolstering the quantum workforce will also require collaboration between academia, industry leaders, and governments. While colleges and universities can offer courses to prepare the next generation of quantum workers, industry leaders can train their current employees and governments can provide the funding and public awareness needed, said Willie Aboumrad, senior IonQ application scientist and an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University.

Many companies in the U.S. are already starting to train their workers and support students. IBM made a goal to educate 30 million people in tech by 2030, including quantum, and Google is collaborating with students and faculty around the world to build quantum engagement, learning, and research.

Plus, the quantum workforce will require candidates with a wide array of skillsets and degrees. “We need to think, how can we prepare our students to be flexible and develop a career in quantum rather than just a job?” said Heather Lewandowski, professor and faculty director of CUbit Education and Workforce Development at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“If you look at the top common skills across all quantum jobs … the top one is coding—not algorithm development—classical programming,” Lewandowski continued. “We really need to develop awareness about careers early and broadly. And not just at the PhD level, in physics or at large research universities, but across higher education and K-12 level as well.”

3. Look international.

The Ambassadors of Finland and Switzerland to the United States both encouraged international collaboration. The two countries consistently rank in the top five for investments in GDP for fundamental research alongside the U.S., said Jacques Pitteloud, ambassador of Switzerland to the United States. The Department of Energy announced a $11.7 million investment for research on quantum computing last year. Investments and collaborations like these will be crucial for narrowing the quantum divide.

“Nobody can do it alone,” said Mikko Hautala, ambassador of Finland to the United States. “We need to cooperate. We need to integrate and bring our own very close cooperation, global understanding, and safe and trusted centers of technology.”