How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis
In the training world, we talk a lot about designing and delivering the best solutions to our customers. But have you ever found yourself in a situation where training really wasn't the solution? How did you come to this decision? How do you really know what your customers want? Well any solution, training or not begins with a needs analysis.
What is a needs analysis and how do you conduct one? This article discusses the components of a training needs analysis and provides suggestions for how you might go about conducting one.
Conducting a Needs Analysis
A needs assessment is a process used to identify knowledge or skill gaps to provide a solution for closing those gaps. That solution may include process improvements or training programs. To quote Brett Christensen, "A performance problem or new opportunity starts with a needs assessment. When you do a needs assessment, you will use both needs analysis and performance analysis. The results of the needs assessment work to improve results through the implementation of non-training or training interventions, or both. If a training intervention is required, then you will have to do a training needs analysis. The TNA uses task analysis to determine what has to be trained and what does not."
What is a Training Needs Analysis?
A training needs analysis is a process used to discover where knowledge or skills need improvement and where they are missing entirely. It establishes the difference between "what is" to work towards "what should be". The analysis will help to identify:
- Background about the material that must be covered.
- Information about learners - what they already know, what they expect and how they are motivated.
- Instructional priorities and critical needs - which needs are financially significant or impact safety or the general working environment?
- Baseline data - which can be used later to assess the intervention.
- Specific goals - that must be met by the training intervention.
A needs analysis can help determine whether a problem is one that can be solved with training. What appears to be a training issue might be a procedural problem, a motivational problem or a performance problem.
Components of a Training Needs Analysis
The format of a training needs analysis should provide the following information:
- General information - Provides an overview of the organization along with its challenges and successes.
- Personnel - Provides details of the existing staffing structure, hiring processes, criteria for advancement and employee designations.
- Current Training and Performance System - Provides information on existing training, orientation and performance support systems.
- Skills Assessment - Identifies existing skills and those in need of development.
- Organization - Identifies how the Organization deals with training at present and what areas of the organization are impacted by the issue. Union and/or corporate policies, goals and requirements should be identified here.
The Training Needs Analysis Process
The training needs analysis has three basic steps.
- Identify Performance Gaps
- Analyze the Data
- Write the Training Needs Analysis Report
1. Identify Performance Gaps
What you are looking for is the gap between the current and desired level of performance. Here, you need to examine the current status of skills, knowledge and abilities and compare it to what is expected of employees according to standards, policies, legislation etc. The differences are the performance gaps.
Identifying these gaps will help you discover:
- Problems or shortcomings in current training.
- New training requirements because of changes (new policies, equipment, etc.)
- Strengths - what is working well and why
- New opportunities for training (teamwork, leadership skills, communication, etc.)
- Training that is a mandated requirement but has not been developed or that has not been successful
Identifying gaps in performance boils down to answering two questions: Do employees know how to do their jobs, and are they doing these jobs effectively?
The answers to these questions can be found by talking to the people involved. You may need to interview senior level management, front line managers and supervisors and the employees who do the work. Each of these groups will have different needs and you'll have to ask the right questions to get the information you're looking for.
> Interview senior level management
Senior management are typically looking for operational results and impact on the business' bottom line. For this group, you may want to consider asking:
- What business results do you expect and how do those expectations differ from the current reality?
- What performance behaviours do you need from employees to meet your business results expectations? (NOTE: These behaviours are a result of employee knowledge, capability and motivation).
- What are employees doing to meet those expectations? What are they not doing?
- What is the cause for the gap between actual performance and expected performance? (for example, outside influences, workplace culture, lack of performance support).
> Interview front line managers and supervisors
For front line managers and supervisors, the questions should focus more on their observations of the employees and the workplace environment. Ask:
- What performance expectations or standards should the ideal (insert position title here) be able to meet?
- What have top performing employees done to enable them to achieve that level of performance?
- How do employees currently learn to do their jobs?
- What resources are available to help employees learn and improve their on the job performance? Are these resources effective? Why or why not?
- What factors in the workplace hinder performance skills development or improvement?
- What do you think should be included in workplace learning to help employees perform at the expected levels?
> Interview employees
Interviews with employees who do the work may be the most telling. Craft your interview questions to be as specific to the employee as you can. Begin by asking about what they do, how long have they been with the company and their experience within the company. You'll also want to find out how they feel about their performance at work by asking questions such as:
- At what level do you feel you are performing at your job (beginner, somewhere in the middle, expert)?
- What has helped you to get to that performance level?
- What would help you to improve your performance?
- How do you learn to perform the skills necessary to do your job?
- How do learn about required skill upgrades or new skills?
- What resources are available to you to help you learn to do your job or to help you improve your skills?
- What learning opportunities would you like to see offered at your workplace?
2. Analyze the Data
A thorough analysis of the data collected through interviews, along with an examination of the existing training documents should allow you to identify the performance gaps as well as the strengths and weaknesses of current training resources.
Thorough and complete data analysis will provide information on trainable competencies - you can't train a person in every aspect of a job. For example, you can train a commercial pilot to fly an airplane, but you cannot train a pilot to have 20/20 vision. It's a lot easier to find people with perfect vision and train them to fly.
The analysis of the data will also provide you with information what percentage of employees need training, as well as training delivery methods - what is the best way to deliver the training? This could be through a facilitated face-to-face workshop or session, eLearning or blended learning (i.e., a bit of both).
3. Write the Training Needs Analysis Report
The needs analysis results will provide direction for what training is required, who needs it, when it will take place and how it will be delivered. The results should be delivered in a report that consists of:
- Executive Summary - The executive summary is often the most important part of the needs analysis report. Some stakeholders may only read the summary, and their decisions will be based on the information contained in it. It is very important to include enough information to inform stakeholders and to entice them to read further so that they can make reasonable, informed decisions.
- Purpose - Briefly describe the purpose of the assessment. Why was the assessment done and what were the expected results?
- Data Gathering Methods - Describe in detail how the data used in the assessment was gathered.
- Data Analysis Methods - Provide a thorough description of the methods used to analyze the data.
- Analysis Findings - Present what the data shows. Provide lots of details and use charts, graphs or tables if you can.
- Recommendations - This section is where you explain what training is needed and why. Deliver recommendations on the types of training required, who should be trained, and how that training should be delivered. Be thorough and clear.
- Evaluation methods - Explain how the training will be evaluated for effectiveness. Provide examples of learner feedback and reports to supervisors and managers.
- Summary - This is where you pull the information together in a neat little package. Summarize each of the sections listed and conclude by explaining how the proposed training links in to the company's performance expectations and corporate objectives
In this article, we've discussed what a training needs analysis is and why it is done. We've walked you through the components and process of conducting a needs analysis. What should you bring to your next needs analysis? Bring your knowledge and your curiosity. Ask the right people the right questions. Be thorough in gathering your data and in its analysis. Finally, keep the needs of both the employees and the employer in mind as you present your findings.
Spend some time researching training needs analysis techniques as you prepare for your next training project. What you find out may be old news or you may be surprised. Whatever you discover, it will help you create new training programs and improve on existing learning programs.
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Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.