Scarcity of talent hampers Australia’s quantum industry

December 14, 2023

Quantum technologies represent a massive opportunity, but strong global competition and a scarcity of talent will hamper growth in the sector in Australia, a major industry review has found.

Image: Lauren Trompp, Careers with STEM

AUSTRALIA’S NASCENT QUANTUM sector sees the technology as a massive economic opportunity with the potential to be game-changing for a variety of industries. However, industry players say strong international competition, a scarcity of talent, a lack of domestic investment firepower and industry capability will likely hamper Australia’s ability to truly commercialise quantum applications onshore.

The National Quantum Industry and Workforce Development Review, published by Sydney Quantum Academy, is based on a year-long survey of Australia’s nascent quantum industry.

Relying on in-depth interviews with key organisations as well as qualitative and quantitative research, it represents of the first overviews of an emerging local sector projected to be worth $2.2 billion and employ almost 9,000 Australians by 2030.

“This gives us some useful insights into the national industry and its expectations,” Prof Peter Turner, CEO of the Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA), a partnership between four Sydney universities and backed by the NSW Government.

“It confirms some of our internal thinking, particularly on the education front. “It’s clear that the industry – both developers of quantum technologies and likely users – understand its potential, and will have a growing and urgent need for a skilled workforce for years to come,” he added.

Wide range of industries surveyed

It surveyed both start-ups developing quantum technologies as well as potential users across various industries, including aerospace, banking and insurance, chemicals and energy, health and life sciences, logistics and information technology.

It also sought input from industry associations, local offshoots of international companies, as well as Federal and State Government instrumentalities.

Respondents considered Australia to have strong levels of research expertise and nucleus of respected global thought leaders, as well as universities with high quality talent and accomplished education programs, particularly in PhD and Master’s programs.

Quantum computing the lead technology

Quantum computing was identified as the main quantum technology under development, and the one of most interest to potential users. This was led by computing hardware and high-level software (eg. algorithms and applications), followed by low-level software (control, error correction and fault tolerance).

Almost one-third of local quantum companies said they also supply expertise in quantum communications, cryptography or sensing; while quantum simulation, imaging and metrology was at lower levels.

A wide range of industries said they are exploring quantum technologies. And almost half of Australian quantum technology developers said they supply to clients in the innovation sector, followed by information technology; then banking, finance and insurance; with quantum technology for defence in the top five.

Potential users cited quantum computing as the type of quantum technology they are most likely to use: 78% said they will have a use case for quantum technologies in their business in the next five years, and that it would likely occupy two-thirds of their organisation’s focus on average.

Only 22% of potential users said no quantum technology is likely to have a use case in their organisation in the next five years.

More PhDs needed, but also more business nous

While both technology developers and potential users see a strong need for ‘quantum specialists’ (scientists with PhDs in physics, chemistry, mathematics or computer science), a growing need was identified for ‘strategists’: business executives with a sophisticated understanding of quantum technologies to help develop business priorities and opportunities.

Another growing need was for ‘technology translators’: graduates with a background science, engineering or software development who can take quantum technologies and turn them into products or solutions.

Both quantum technology suppliers and potential users said there’s a clear need for more ‘commercial’ skills among quantum graduates, such as design thinking, scenario planning, financial forecasting and risk assessment.

For the industry to mature, potential users said that more individuals in business need to see uses for quantum solutions and understand the basics of when and how they can be used.

Need for internal business champions

Both quantum suppliers and potential users believe the top two roles needed over the next five years will be Software Developer/Engineer; followed by Quantum Algorithm Developer/Algorithmic Engineer.

Thereafter, they diverge based on their specific needs. Potential users see a need for staff on the business side of their companies to coordinate quantum technology development – roles such as a Quantum Director/Team Management/Program Manager role and/or a Business Development Manager – which would help establish quantum-related functions internally and support them alongside more technically-focused staff.

Hard science skills in demand

Demand for quantum skills – such as physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering – will continue to be in high among quantum technology suppliers.

In software, there was a marked demand for skills in the Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Algorithm Development and Software Development, including programming.

But there is also expected to be a marked priority for non-technical fields, such as Business Development, Product Development and Project Management. For potential users, the focus is primarily on classical software, with AI/ML/Algorithm Development and Systems Architecture the priorities.

The second biggest priority is non-technical, eg. Business Development, Product Development and Business Analysis.

Much less interest in hard quantum skills, except where they can apply to Device Modelling/Simulation or Quantum Algorithm Development.

Future industries

The report found that about one-third of the industry operating in Australia have less than 50 employees, while just under 50% have 1,000 or more employees. For organisations with global offices, just over 50% have 1,000 or more employees, versus 25% with less than 50 employees.

Future industries that suppliers intend to provide quantum technologies were led by government and agriculture primarily; followed by transport, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and medical or life sciences; with energy, resources, utilities, chemicals and business services as among the least focus.

About Sydney Quantum Academy

Sydney Quantum Academy is a joint venture between University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of Technology Sydney, and supported by the State Government of New South Wales.

Its vision is to build Australia quantum economy by connecting academia, industry, and government; providing training and support for the next generation of quantum talent; and harnessing Sydney’s considerable collective expertise.

Want to know more about Quantum careers? Check out the special edition: Careers with STEM: Quantum

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