What is a Training Needs Analysis or Needs Assessment?

A training needs analysis lays the necessary groundwork for determining your organization’s true needs and how your employees can best receive and benefit from the required training.

As with any process, having a solid foundation can help ensure success.

What is a training needs analysis or needs assessment?

A training needs assessment is a process that organizations use to measure performance requirements and the knowledge, abilities, and skills that employees need to achieve those requirements.

There are three key areas that are considered accurate assessors of those needs:

  • Proficiency: the skill proficiency of employees
  • Frequency: employees’ frequency of using that skill
  • Applicability: how the level of employees’ skills applies and is tied to job performance

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The training needs assessment aims to answer some familiar organizational questions.

  • Why conduct the training: Organizations typically conduct training to tie a performance issue to a working need and make sure that the benefits of carrying out the training outweigh the issue. To answer this question, two types of analysis need to be conducted: feasibility analysis and needs versus wants analysis.
  • Who is involved in the training: While a training intake system can certainly determine the training needs of one employee or of a small group, a wider assessment is in order. To determine the total number of target participants for the training, a target population analysis needs to be performed. This type of analysis allows organizations to learn as much as possible about the people with the skill or performance deficiency and how to develop a training program to engage them.
  • How to fix the performance problem: While training can help fix an individual performance problem, learning leaders need to conduct a performance analysis in order to pinpoint exactly what skill deficiency to address. This type of analysis might also investigate how the department, division, or the entire company is performing as a whole.
  • What is the best way to perform: On the flip side, a task analysis should be performed in order to understand the preferred or best way to go about completing a task in order to obtain the best results. This type of analysis covers the finer points of exactly what employees and managers are doing in their individual roles.
  • When to conduct the training: Timing is everything, and apart from emergency compliance training, L&D teams need to determine the best timing to roll out training. It might be continuous or “in the flow of work,” or perhaps it can wait several quarters.

The three levels of a training needs assessment

A needs assessment does not simply involve the competencies of the individual employee. A thorough training needs assessment can be performed on three levels.

Organizational level

The training needs assessment at the organizational level is a macro-level assessment that helps find the areas where employees lack the necessary skills or knowledge and provide need-based training. It aims to answer the following questions:

  • Where is training most needed?
  • Is the training needed for a specific department or a group of employees?
  • Why is the training program recommended as a solution to the current problem?

A needs assessment at the organization level helps learning leaders clearly define measurable outcomes for training, increasing the chances of success of the training program.

Operational level

At the operational level, also known as the task, occupation, or job level, a needs analysis determines what kind of training employees need in order to achieve a specified level of proficiency in their jobs.

This is most closely related to the skills gap analysis, determining the knowledge and skills required for specific tasks and correlating these requirements to the actual knowledge and skills of your employees. The gaps or problems revealed in this analysis can be used to determine the types of training employees actually need.

An operational level needs analysis aims to answer the following questions:

  • How is the job performed?
  • What are the performance standards for the job?
  • What are the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to complete the job successfully?

While there might exist job specifications and job descriptions that can help L&D perform this type of needs analysis, the use of external industry or professional data can also prove helpful, especially as the organization is trying to remain competitive.

Individual level

At the individual or personal level, a needs assessment determines the level to which each employee performs his or her role. The difference between the actual performance and the expected performance helps determine whether a needs assessment is even necessary at this level.

Oftentimes, HR-level performance data steps in at this point to do the heavy lifting.

An individual level needs assessment delivers a complete picture of employees’ performance and whether their performance meets expected standards. Such an assessment aims to answer the following questions:

  • What is the expected performance of the employee? (Metrics help here)
  • Do employees possess the necessary knowledge and skills?
  • What is the gap between the expected and actual performance?
  • Is anything impeding employees from performing more proficiently?
  • What types of learning experiences can be provided to employees in order to meet expected performance standards?

Establishing training needs is one thing, and keeping up with the demand to fill the gap with new training solutions is another. Try this capacity gap calculator to get a realistic view of how much training your team can produce:
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unconscious incompetence

Assess training options

Once a needs assessment has been completed, learning leaders then need to figure out the next steps. Will training address those needs? If so, what type of training?

While the answers to such questions may appear while performing the analysis, below are some factors to consider when determining whether training is a viable or even relevant option.

Performance

If an employee has a performance problem that has clearly been identified as a training issue, that employee, when provided with the additional on-the-job training, will successfully acquire the needed skills and will meet the organization’s required performance standards.

However, a manager might determine that no amount of training will address a particular performance issue. The employee may have personal or other external issues that training will not be able to overcome. This needs to be determined before a learning experience is developed and delivered to the employee.

Return on investment

Learning leaders should calculate the value of expenditures related to developing training and how long it will take for these activities to pay for themselves and to provide a positive ROI to the organization.  

Clearly, training that would be undertaken by more employees, delivering high-impact results, would take priority over training needed by only a handful of employees, and that would have an uncertain effect on the bottom line.

Resources

Not just cost, but the amount of time that would be needed to develop training, and the time needed by employees to undergo and apply that training to their every day roles, should be considered.

Of course, the option to simply buy external, off-the-shelf training might do the trick, and could be the L&D department’s secret weapon for providing much-needed training in a pinch.

Corporate strategy

Perhaps training isn’t really needed at all. An organization might believe that training employees on a brand new product, service, technology, skill, or process will lead to increased revenues. However, the cost of the training and the risk of failure to the organization might be too great.

Instead, the organization can back away from the new endeavor, or simply make minor tweaks to existing products and services that would require drastically less training for employees. In this way, the organization faces less risk, employees can find more security in their roles, and revenues and profits can still continue.

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