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Building a pathway to commercial quantum computing

The shortage of expertise in quantum technologies will drive up salaries. A new report from TechUK assesses the route to commercialisation

New research by Quantum Futures, provided to TechUK, has reported that salaries in quantum are now starting at £50,000, increasing to over £90,000 in five years.

For positions in the US, salaries are reaching $250,000 (£192,000) with five years’ experience in the industry, and TechUK warned that it is difficult for the UK to keep pace with this level of investment and growth.

The findings have been published as part of a new TechUK report, Quantum commercialisation.

In the report, TechUK warned that it is unsustainable to develop a talent pipeline where everyone working in quantum needs a PhD. The authors of the report pointed out that, at the moment, it can be difficult for those without a PhD to find technical roles within quantum. 

According to TechUK, the high levels of investment needed in quantum computing put intense pressure on both startups and scaleups in the UK trying to attract quantum talent. The authors of the TechUK report urged organisations, educational institutes and government to ramp up the talent pipeline immediately and to mitigate the potential of a brain drain.

Julian David, CEO at TechUK, said: “There is a war for talent. This stuff is a little more specialised. It’s a global matter. We need to focus on growing our own and making the UK an attractive place to come to.”

TechUK believes the development of a suitable talent pipeline in the UK will be difficult and will require the UK tech sector, the quantum industry, academia and the government to actively work together to prioritise quantum skills. The authors of the report called on both the government and industry to reduce barriers to entry for a career in quantum, to make the UK “a world leader in commercialisation”.

Laura Foster, head of technology and innovation at TechUK, said: “With the formidable role that quantum technologies will play in enabling previously unattainable technological advancements in drug discovery, protein-folding, carbon capture, battery research and more, quantum will be key to unlocking the UK’s success as a science and technology superpower.

“However, industry cannot do this alone – our first quantum report calls on the UK government and industry to set clear commercial ambitions together, giving UK-based and international businesses the confidence that the UK is a viable place to achieve commercial viability.” 

TechUK also said the UK needs to recognise that quantum commercialisation will also require the development of a quantum-literate workforce who have appropriate skills to enable the deployment of quantum products and services. According to TechUK, this includes having a workforce within the wider UK tech sector with the right skills to utilise quantum technologies and their applications.

The report lists several skills needed to boost the adoption of quantum computing, including electrical engineers, materials scientists, network specialists, computer programmers and business leaders who can be upskilled to exploit the quantum opportunity.

Read more about quantum computing

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David called on the industry to ensure that quantum technologies are open to all. He urged tech firms, government and educational institutes to develop pathways where high-performance computing (HPC), cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies work together with quantum computing.

Quantum computing offers organisations a way to solve problems that would be impossible using classical computing architectures. This could lead to breakthrough discoveries in areas such as drug discovery, materials science and the development of new catalysts to make chemical processes more efficient and produce less harmful waste.

Science minister George Freeman said: “The advances being made in quantum technology offer some of the most exciting opportunities in the innovation pipeline for the years ahead, potentially revolutionising everything from medical diagnostics and autonomous vehicles, to military navigation and cyber security.”

During a panel discussion hosted at TechUK’s London office, which took place at the launch of the report, experts were asked their views on commercialising quantum computing. Piers Clinton-Tarestad, a partner and quantum and computing leader at EY, said: “We are seeing our clients engaging with quantum computing.  Experimentation is starting to increase over the next few years.”

Clinton-Tarestad added that recent EY research suggests organisations are starting to assess the longer impact of quantum computing.

Rachel Maze, who specialises in technology strategy and security at the  Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “It is going to take a lot of experimentation and upskilling for end-users to find a killer quantum application. It is something you need to engage with now and think of the types of problem where quantum computing is relevant.”

Glenn Manoff, chief marketing officer at quantum startup Riverlane, said: “Quantum encryption is the first killer application, but computing is still years away.” He added that in his experience, there is a big dividing line between hype and reality.

“There is not a whole lot you can do yet that can’t be achieved on a classic computer,” said Manoff, who believes it will take a while to scale up quantum computing to a point where the hardware is capable of running breakthrough applications.

Looking specifically at the commercialisation of quantum encryption, Jonathan Legh-Smith, principal, scientific affairs at BT, said: “Our primary interest is quantum secure communications. We have just started that commercial journey. It’s a world first, managed as a real network.”

According to Legh-Smith, quantum secure communication must be a first step, in order to harden networks, before quantum computing becomes more mainstream. “This needs to happen within the next few years,” he added. 

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