Skills shortages could pose threat to UK’s quantum ambitions

Purple abstract quantum computing concept image
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A shortage of skilled quantum computing professionals in the UK has been identified as one of the key factors that could negatively influence the nation's technological ambitions in the sector.

Speaking to IT Pro, Kate Marshall, quantum ambassador at IBM, said that while the UK currently holds a strong position in the global quantum computing space and has all the 'raw materials' for success, a stronger focus on developing skills will be required if the UK is to become a leading ‘quantum economy’.

Marshall’s comments follow the government’s Spring Statement, in which chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined the next phase of the UK’s quantum strategy.

Hunt told MPs that the government plans to commit £900 million in funding to implement recommendations outlined in the Future of Compute review to accelerate investment in quantum computing and deliver an ‘exascale’ computer.

Marshall said the government’s recent announcement marks a strong statement of intent, but warned a key hurdle the industry faces is whether the UK can produce a quantum-ready workforce.

In a 2021 study from Gartner, around 40% of large enterprises said they planned to start quantum computing initiatives by 2025.

However, another study from the consultancy revealed that only 6% of companies feel they already have the skills necessary to implement and deliver value from quantum computing.

Marshall said this highlights a disparity in workforce skills and warned that as businesses seek to embrace quantum computing over the next decade, many could be faced with significant skills-based challenges.

“There’s a gap there, and I think this is about recognising that gap and making steps to close it as well,” she said.

“There’s definitely work to be done in terms of re-skilling those existing parts of the workforce that are very close to being able to work with this type of technology and get the most out of it, but there’s a gap between where they need to be and where they are now.”

“There’s also a question around how we can make sure people who are currently in the education system - so in schools, colleges, and universities - are given the raw materials to succeed in this industry.”

Moving forward, a heightened focus on skills and training relevant to the quantum computing space will be imperative, she said. Increased resources for people to upskill, reskill, and train for roles in the industry will also be crucial.

“There’s the access question of whether people are actually going to learn to use these machines. They need access to what’s available today.

"Then there’s ecosystem management as well, this is something that industry, academia, and government are all facing at the same time. So there’s definitely got to be some ecosystem coordination here.”

Collaboration is key

Marshall said that although the blossoming UK quantum industry does face challenges, there are positive signs that the country’s academic infrastructure can produce a quantum-ready workforce.

The UK already boasts world-leading research and scientific capabilities through its academic institutions which will prove vital to supporting the future workforce and scaling the industry over the next decade.


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“Our existing scientific and research excellence, the organisational structures of our top-class universities, and research spheres are definitely well placed to push this forward to make the UK a leader in this area,” she said.

“There’s definitely stuff that can be done to try and organise better, and that is what this ten-year vision and quantum strategy is hopefully going to be able to do,” Marshall added.

The National Quantum Computing Centre, which was established in the previous five-year stage introduced in 2019, will also play a key role in helping to further develop the UK’s quantum ecosystem and address some of these concerns around industry maturation and skills shortages, Marshall said.

“They’ll be key in making the UK a more organised and stronger force in the global sphere of quantum computing and maximise our excellence in terms of academic research, but also organising and coordinating government engagement, industry venture investment, and then supply chain growth and international collaboration as well.”

Ross Kelly

Ross Kelly is ITPro's News & Analysis Editor, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape. Ross was previously a Staff Writer, during which time he developed a keen interest in cyber security, business leadership, and emerging technologies.

He graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and joined ITPro in 2022 after four years working in technology conference research.

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