The growth of a skilled UK workforce in quantum technologies has been a strategic priority of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP) since its inception in 2013. Nearly a decade on, the UKNQTP has turned into a huge success story and continues to serve as a benchmark for similar national initiatives on a global scale. As some of the key stakeholders – the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), alongside the national programme’s Strategic Advisory Board and delivery partners – are coming together to develop the UK’s Quantum Strategy for the next ten years, creation of the next generation quantum workforce with the appropriate skills and training to support the aims of the programme and contribute to its success is once again back on the agenda. The issue is not without its challenges.
Demand for highly skilled professionals is on the rise, largely resulting from the plethora of successful UK-spawned quantum start-ups. At the same time, national capability – including when it comes to a skilled workforce – is more important than ever. Following Brexit, the flow of researchers and prospective students from the EU to the UK has come to nearly a complete halt, while sensitivities inherent in the emerging technologies (including their dual use of some of these technologies for security/defence purposes) makes recruitment and the rollout of research exchange schemes from countries such as China (arguably a leader in the field) fraught with issues. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has provided added investment in the form of doctoral training partnership PhD studentships and fellowships into quantum technologies, but supply of skilled quantum practitioners continues to struggle to keep on with demand.
In response to this issue, the University of York-led Quantum Communications Hub has taken a more long-term view and has put into place a number of initiatives aiming to inspire the next generation of quantum technologists. The first of these is the Quantum STEM Ambassadors scheme, funded through the Hub’s partnership resource fund and implemented by the National STEM Learning Centre working closely with the University of York’s Science Education Group. The aim of the project is to “bring quantum into the classroom”. Currently quantum science is not part of the core syllabus of taught programmes in schools, which in turn means that teachers and students are unaware of the potential of the new technologies and – crucially – the many career pathways available in the field. The two-year programme enables students and teachers to access bespoke educational resources on quantum technologies and their underlying scientific principles, giving an insight into the variety of technologies currently under development, their applications and career opportunities within the field. The programme also provides the opportunity for specially trained quantum STEM Ambassadors to work with teachers to deliver interactive sessions, thus enabling students to ask questions about the technologies and in particular jobs and career opportunities. If you are already a STEM Ambassador you can sign up to receive additional training for the quantum scheme by signing in to your STEM Ambassador profile; alternatively, you can receive training to become a STEM Ambassador and subsequently join the quantum scheme by registering via the STEM Learning website.
The Hub also runs a blog, Quantumness, Randomness and Endless Possibilities, which features regular interviews with people from the quantum community, working in a variety of roles, discussing what first sparked their interest in quantum, what their role entails, the skills they think are most valuable to that role and their hopes for the future. The aim is to highlight a wide spectrum of roles, naturally including typical roles such as researchers in academia and quantum technologists working in industry alongside other, less obvious careers which are still crucial to the community e.g. hardware engineers, software developers and business development managers. Some of the interviewees featured are great examples of people who have made the transition from a more “classical” technology background to the quantum realm, such as Professor Nicole Metje, who having studied civil engineering for a number of years is now exploring quantum sensing applications for mapping buried infrastructure.
Drawing primarily upon this material, the Hub has now also created a suite of fact sheets on careers in quantum technologies, aimed at secondary school students, which collate information on a number of roles: the skills, qualifications and experience that would be beneficial to someone considering each position, information on career progression potential, and a case study of someone working in each role already. These enable interested students to be fully informed about the types of things they need to consider and work towards in order to take up a career in quantum.
Beyond this, and as part of Quantum City, the public engagement arm of the UKNQTP, the Hub recently contributed to the creation of a series of posters on quantum technologies and their many applications. These have been distributed widely to schools up and down the country, in partnership with the Institute of Physics, and requests for copies have also been made by teachers, not just in the UK, but overseas too. The posters cover five major areas of quantum (communications, computing, imaging, measurement and sensing) while they also include information on the UKNQTP and careers in quantum, to encourage interested students to find out more about the possibilities within the field.
Finally, Hub investigators and industry partners are closely involved in the work of the IET Quantum Engineering Technical Network Group, whose vision includes supporting “engineers working in quantum technologies to share knowledge and practice experience concerning the development of skills, products and applications and their underpinning technologies”. The IET QE Group which has been very active in raising awareness of the need for diverse and cross-disciplinary engineering engagement in the rapidly emerging quantum sector is now working closely with BEIS and senior stakeholders of the UKNQTP to advance the uptake of skills and training opportunities in the field.
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