Identifying and differentiating quantum talent for future success

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In August, President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, authorizing new investments in quantum information science and technology (QIST). This new legislation builds on decades of accelerated investments to encourage new discoveries and harness new technologies to ensure U.S. economic and national security. The Act authorizes activities that will accelerate the discovery of quantum applications, grow the quantum workforce and enable cutting-edge research and development.

Greater investment in quantum technology will create an increased demand for what is already a small talent pool. Organizations will need to have a firm understanding of how QIST affects their mission to hire or upskill the right technologists to further their strategic priorities.

QIST has the potential to revolutionize every major industry, but the field is still nascent, and until industry standards and norms are further developed, it can be easy to miss important differences among the principal subsets of quantum technology.

Quantum sensing, computing and communications require different expertise, and an organization may not need experts in all three areas. Similarly, a single quantum scientist won’t be equally suited to roles across the three technology clusters.

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With that in mind, organizations must carefully align personnel and projects to enable the full potential of quantum technologies.

Distinguishing QIST expertise

Harnessing the transformative potential of quantum technology requires a breadth and depth of talent that is challenging to recruit and retain. To capitalize on QIST’s potential, leaders must accurately manage the expertise their organizations need for strategic planning and R&D, while building hiring pipelines that enable them to scale.

Furthermore, building a team that is capable of operationalizing the technology requires input from experts in the fields of the target application. For example, to create a quantum financial solution to predict a market crash, an organization would need to pair a quantum scientist with an expert in financial data and modeling.

We can learn several lessons from implementing artificial intelligence (AI) teams. Due to the diversity of expertise under the AI umbrella, it’s no longer sufficient to simply recruit an “AI expert.” Rather, recruitment language has evolved to differentiate AI specialties — between computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) and reinforcement learning, for example — to better facilitate connections between people and applications.

As QIST continues to mature, leaders must learn to distinguish quantum expertise with similar specificity. Ultimately, the ideal team will be composed based on the unique mission of the particular agency or organization.

Developing upskilling initiatives and strategic partnerships

As we navigate this quantum talent shortage, leaders should focus on two key efforts: upskilling endeavors and strategic partnerships.

Upskilling may not be viable to produce quantum specialists without the right pre-existing skills, but it can prepare other subject matter experts to contribute to quantum problems. Effective upskilling initiatives focus on the foundational information mission experts need to identify quantum-relevant problems and engage quantum solutions.

These initiatives should go hand in hand with internal networking — organizations should aim to train their workforce to recognize opportunities where quantum technology could drive mission-critical impacts. As the goals and needs of the field continue to develop, organizations must build forecasting into their strategy to make sure the teams they are building are diverse and interdisciplinary enough to pivot as the application areas of quantum evolve.

This approach to upskilling can be extrapolated to external partnerships. It’s a tall order for any organization to recruit and retain the diversity of quantum expertise they will likely need to fully optimize their use of the technology over time. In-house talent investments won’t make sense for every organization, and it can be beneficial to consider outside partners who understand the probable time horizons for realizing different quantum applications.

With the ability to pool quantum expertise, organizations will be better prepared to identify critical use cases and mission applications for QIST in both the short and long terms. In short, external partnerships will enable organizations to maximize the benefits of QIST adoption potential without overextending their in-house expertise.

Tying quantum together with talent and technology in lockstep

While quantum technology will continue to develop at its own pace, there must be a consistent, clear connection between in-house QIST research and how it will impact business goals. Organizations will need to remain grounded in their missions and clarify how their talent needs are aligned to their priorities. CISOs, CTOs and other senior leaders must start preparing today to leverage QIST as it scales to upend technology norms across sectors and industries.

QIST is not a quick fix. Rather, the many applications of quantum technology — current and future — represent advances to solving specific types of problems. Some applications are on a longer timeline, while others require immediate attention.

For example, post-quantum cryptography (PQC) is an advanced encryption approach that every government and commercial enterprise must adopt soon to ensure ongoing digital security.

With early support from trusted advisors and partners, leaders can identify which quantum skillsets correspond to their mission-critical use cases and ensure access to the right talent.

Jordan Kenyon is senior lead scientist at Booz Allen. JD Dulny is director at Booz Allen.

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