13 May 2024
by Andrew Martin

Quantum Leap – taking quantum skills to the next level

Guest blog from Andrew Martin at DSIT as part of our #UnleashInnovation campaign week 2024.

Investing in skills to unlock the potential of quantum technologies

Quantum technologies are no longer confined to the world of theoretical physics, nor to questionable plot twists in sci-fi movies. These innovative technologies represent a huge opportunity to improve the prosperity, security, sustainability, and health of the UK over the next ten years.

Leveraging the principles of quantum mechanics, quantum technologies offer groundbreaking capabilities across a broad range of applications.  These advancements have the potential to significantly impact our lives, addressing some of our nation's most pressing challenges. From revolutionising healthcare with earlier diagnoses and personalised treatments to optimising power grids and developing next-generation batteries for a sustainable future, quantum technologies hold the key to a healthier planet and improved well-being. Additionally, these technologies could significantly enhance productivity by streamlining logistics and financial management.

Across businesses, research institutions, government agencies, and industry bodies like techUK, there is a collaborative effort to capitalise on the potential of these technologies, and transform the UK into a world-leading quantum-enabled economy. A key component of this is fostering a skilled workforce capable of leading both the development and implementation of quantum technologies. The importance of skills to the quantum sector was recognised in the National Quantum Strategy, which commits £2.5 billion to developing quantum technologies in the UK over the next ten years and includes several commitments to support the growth of quantum skills across the country. 

Building on our strengths

The UK’s rich history of leading quantum research gives us a huge amount to build on. From the pioneering work of Paul Dirac, the Nobel laureate that was one of the founders of quantum mechanics, through to the establishment of the trailblazing National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP) in 2014, we’ve consistently been at the forefront of scientific developments.

Over the last 10 years the NQTP has supported over 570 PhD studentships and over 30 fellowships, while the Quantum Technology Hubs have served as centres of research excellence. This has contributed significantly to our thriving quantum ecosystem, with the UK being ranked third in the world for the impact of our quantum research and many of our innovative startups having roots within the NQTP.

We are building on these impressive achievements, with over £100m committed to future quantum skills programmes. Since the publication of the National Quantum Strategy, the UK has:

  • More than doubled the number of flagship Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) focused on quantum and funded through EPSRC. The number of CDTs will increase from two to five, with centres opening at the Universities of Southampton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Strathclyde, and University College London.
  • Provided support for a further 100 quantum PhD studentships through a £14m investment in Doctoral Training Partnerships, funding quantum PhDs in every nation and region of the UK.
  • Launched a new quantum career development fellowship, with £14m funding to support the best and brightest to develop their research careers in the UK.

These investments will compliment the five quantum missions that were announced as part of the 2023 Autumn Statement, and the new portfolio of application-focussed Research Hubs, in making the UK one of the most attractive places in the world to study, research and work in the quantum sector.

Broadening the skills base

While there is a clear and growing demand for individuals with the deep quantum expertise provided by a PhD, there is also a much broader range of skills required by the sector. As quantum technologies have advanced, we have seen the skills needed by the sector transform, with a much greater demand for engineering and technical skills. This is alongside a need for high quality teachers, materials scientists, systems integrators, ethicists, and those with expertise in identifying and commercialising products and applications.

Through the Quantum Skills Taskforce, we are working closely with industry partners, academic institutions, professional societies, and other government departments. The Taskforce aims to identify both current and anticipated skill requirements within the quantum sector, and develop strategies to address them. This initiative has received significant support and engagement across the ecosystem, including from techUK and its members. Since the start of the year over 100 sector representatives have engaged with the taskforce, its working groups, or through supporting workshops.

The Taskforce will be publishing a report in the summer, setting out key findings and evidence across a range of priority areas. This will include the role of apprenticeships and technical education, supporting the existing workforce to transition to quantum, considerations for international recruitment and retention, ensuring the workforce is representative of our society, and effective quantum outreach activities. DSIT will be guided by this report to develop future skills policy and investments.

Many of the skills needed by the quantum sector are in demand across other critical science and technology areas. We’re working closely with teams across government through the Science and Technology Framework to ensure that our STEM talent base is large enough to meet the needs of all sectors, while learning from the approach to skills taken by more mature industries. 

A bright future

There are many reasons to be optimistic as we consider the broader skills needs of the quantum sector. We have substantial strengths in many of the industries that are expected to benefit most from adopting quantum tech, while a recent report by McKinsey found that the UK has one of the highest concentrations of quantum-relevant talent anywhere in the world. Our work with the Taskforce indicates that a substantial number of roles within the sector do not require detailed quantum expertise, and that many engineers and technicians could be supported to join the workforce through short, targeted training courses.

The UK is already leading the way in some areas of this transition, such as the establishment of a quantum apprenticeship pilot. We believe this is the world’s first dedicated quantum apprenticeship programme, and it will provide support to engineering technicians looking to join this exciting and innovative area.

The UK quantum ecosystem is vibrant, dynamic, and full of potential. Skills have been central to the staggering progress that has been made in quantum technologies over the last decade and will be critical to capitalising on the opportunities that quantum technologies offer. Securing these skills will require continued collaboration and investment, from world-leading multinationals to innovative start-ups, from top-class universities and national labs to newly established Institutes of Technology, and from venerable learned societies to forward-thinking trade associations.

Feel free to get in touch with us at [email protected] if you would like to be involved in the work of the Quantum Skills Taskforce, or share any thoughts on quantum skills.


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techUK – Unleashing UK Tech and Innovation 

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The UK is home to emerging technologies that have the power to revolutionise entire industries. From quantum to semiconductors; from gaming to the New Space Economy, they all have the unique opportunity to help prepare for what comes next.

techUK members lead the development of these technologies. Together we are working with Government and other stakeholders to address tech innovation priorities and build an innovation ecosystem that will benefit people, society, economy and the planet - and unleash the UK as a global leader in tech and innovation.

For more information, or to get in touch, please visit our Innovation Hub and click ‘contact us’. 


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techUK’s flagship Tech and Innovation Summit returns to traverse the extraordinary and ground-breaking discoveries made possible by the application of emerging and transformative technologies. 

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techUK's sprint campaigns explore how emerging and transformative technologies are developed, applied and commercialised across the UK's innovation ecosystem.

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Authors

Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin

Skills Lead, DSIT