Quantum technology is rapidly growing, highly technical and is attracting a lot of funding. It’s a perfect storm for government labs and agencies hoping to attract workers to their own quantum information science (QIS) projects.
Last summer the U.S. government reported facing a quantum workforce crises, most acutely felt at agencies on the federal level. Now, using feedback from a virtual workshop held in August, 2021, the Laboratory for Physical Sciences (LPS) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a report on how the government can beef up quantum information science (QIS) expertise in the government.
The workshop focused on challenges and best practices for recruiting and retaining the talent needed to ensure the federal government has ample awareness of and expertise in QIS challenges and opportunities.
The report spotlights the three main challenges of recruitment in this quantum workforce shortage:
- Industry salaries in QIS are higher than corresponding Federal salaries, affecting recruitment and retention.
- Low Federal hiring processes often result in candidates taking other opportunities.
- Misconceptions about government work keep people from considering government careers.
“[students] follow their professor’s footsteps in academia, or receive lots of marketing from industry, but the government option is largely unknown.”
The group also discussed possible solutions, including:
- Leveraging all available and existing authorities to support recruitment and reduce time to hire.
- Increasing compensation in QIS to be more competitive with the private sector. This potentially could include out-of-cycle pay adjustments and the ability to counter private sector offers, while being mindful of pay compression.
- Proactively explaining the non-salary benefits of government work, such as retirement benefits, work-life balance, job stability, and engagement with cutting-edge research.
- Reducing hiring timelines for positions requiring security positions by leveraging creative interdepartmental and inter-agency partnerships to hire individuals to work on relevant projects while they await completion of the security clearance process.
- Allocating resources for recruitment, such as networking at conferences, speaking at colleges and universities, attending career fairs, engaging with K-12 educational institutions, and the public; especially among underrepresented groups.
Other ideas discussed included “developing a Quantum Reserve Corps, where researchers in the private sector maintain clearances and can be called upon to do special projects or reviews; establishing a program for government scientists to rotate into industry; and forging avenues for military personnel to transition into QIS careers in government.”
The workshop attracted about 40 people from a variety of federal agencies, industry, academia, federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) and university affiliated research centers (UARCs).
Heather Lewandowski, of the University of Colorado and JILA, gave the keynote address. Charles Tahan, assistant director for QIS at OSTP, also addressed the group.