Report: Canada’s quantum talent pool punches above its weight

Despite a pool of just 4,000, Canada still represents five percent of the world's quantum talent.

A new report from the British Columbia-based Quantum Algorithms Institute (QAI) has found that Canada is an overachiever in quantum tech talent relative to other countries.

The report, which aims to paint a picture of Canada’s quantum sector, found that overall, the country’s commercial and academic quantum talent pool is small at just 4,000 people. For a point of comparison, the pool for AI talent is at over 40,000 in Montreal alone, according to data from Montreal International.

“The nascent quantum sector will require innovation in education, training and workforce development to reach its full potential.”

However, Canada is far outperforming many other nations when considering its population size. The report indicated that Canada accounts for five percent of the world’s quantum talent (it is only half of one percent of the global population). 

Much of Canada’s quantum talent is rooted in its post-secondary institutions and research labs, according to the report.

QAI noted that Canadian researchers were among the top contributors to the field globally in 2023, authoring 1,000 out of the 75,000 quantum computing research papers published on arXiv, an open-access research platform. 

The report identified the universities with the most researchers in quantum fields as the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, the Université de Sherbrooke, and the University of British Columbia. 

This academic strength helps bolster the nearly 50 Canadian quantum companies QAI identified in its report. QAI specifically highlighted D-Wave, Xanadu, Anyon, Photonic, 1QBit, Good Chemistry, and Nord Quantique as companies leading the way internally on commercialization, many of which have ties to Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Christian Weedbrook, CEO and founder of quantum startup Xanadu, recently pointed to Canada’s strength in academic and research institutes as one of the key reasons he is committed to scaling his company in Canada.

While Canada is making strides in quantum broadly, significant challenges remain in the quantum labour market. The first highlighted by QAI is the lack of comprehensive workforce data, which it said likely stems from the sector’s infancy and the absence of national data-collection standards. Although the report said that international workforce data is “similarly elusive,” early findings indicate a net brain drain of talent from Canada to the United States (US). 

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The report also noted that salaries in quantum companies in the late 2010s were “on the low side” for the Canadian tech sector. From 2017 to 2020, average salaries in the quantum sector grew from $61,662 to $66,872 per year. In 2021, the average annual salary for employees in the wider tech sector in Canada was $89,630.

Women also make up a fifth of Canada’s quantum talent pool, according to the report, and were being paid between 29.6 percent and 35.5 percent less than men in the sector between 2017 and 2021. QAI described this as “a significant disparity which cannot be satisfactorily explained without more granular information about the roles held by women and men in Canada’s quantum companies.”

And though Canada excels in talent relative to its size, the report underscored that the worldwide shortage of talent could jeopardize Canada’s advancements in quantum research and commercialization.

Increasing that talent pool is one of the priorities of the federal government’s $360-million National Quantum Strategy. The strategy allocates $45 million to developing, attracting and retaining talent from within Canada and around the world for the quantum industry.

“With talent shortages in established high tech sectors and international competition for highly qualified personnel in artificial intelligence and other deep tech fields, the nascent quantum sector will require innovation in education, training, and workforce development to reach its full potential,” the report noted.

Feature image courtesy Xanadu.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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