Training needs assessments: the basics

closeup of a survey questionnaire form and pencil

The purpose of a training needs assessment is to identify performance requirements and the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by an agency’s workforce to achieve the requirements. An effective training needs assessment will help direct resources to areas of greatest demand. The assessment should address resources needed to fulfill organizational mission, improve productivity, and provide quality products and services. A needs assessment is the process of identifying the “gap” between performance required and current performance. When a difference exists, it explores the causes and reasons for the gap and methods for closing or eliminating the gap. A complete needs assessment also considers the consequences for ignoring the gaps.

There are three levels of a training needs assessment:

  • Organizational assessment evaluates the level of organizational performance. An assessment of this type will determine what skills, knowledge, and abilities an agency needs. It determines what is required to alleviate the problems and weaknesses of the agency as well as to enhance strengths and competencies. Organizational assessment takes into consideration various additional factors, including changing demographics, political trends, technology, and the economy.
  • Occupational assessment examines the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for affected occupational groups. Occupational assessment identifies how and which occupational discrepancies or gaps exist, potentially introduced by the new direction of an agency. It also examines new ways to do work that can eliminate the discrepancies or gaps.
  • Individual assessment analyzes how well an individual employee is doing a job and determines the individual’s capacity to do new or different work. Individual assessment provides information on which employees need training and what kind.

The Training Needs Assessment Process

  1. Determine Agency Benefits of Needs Assessment– this part of the process will sell and help the decision makers and stakeholders understand the concept of the needs assessment. Needs assessment based on the alignment of critical behaviors with a clear agency mission will account for critical occupational and performance requirements to help your agency: a) eliminate redundant training efforts, b) substantially reduce the unnecessary expenditure of training dollars, and c) assist managers in identifying performance requirements that can best be satisfied by training and other developmental strategies. To go beyond learning and actually achieve critical behaviors the agency will also need to consider how required drivers will sustain desired outcomes.Key steps include:
    • Identify key stakeholders
    • Solicit support
    • Describe desired outcomes that will contribute to mission objectives
    • Clarify critical behaviors needed to achieve desired outcomes
    • Define required drivers essential to sustain the critical behaviors
  2. Plan– The needs assessment is likely to be only as successful as the planning.
    • Set goals/objectives for the needs assessment
    • Evaluate organizational (agency) readiness and identify key roles
    • Evaluate prior/other needs assessments
    • Prepare project plan
    • Inventory the capacity of staff and technology to conduct a meaningful training skills assessment and analysis
    • Clarify success measures and program milestones
  3. Conduct Needs Assessment
    • Obtain needs assessment data (e.g., review strategic plans, assess HR metrics, review job descriptions, conduct surveys, review performance appraisals)
    • Analyze data
    • Define performance problems/issues: occupational group/individuals
    • Describe critical behaviors needed to affect problems/issues
    • Determine and clarify why critical behaviors do not currently exist
    • Research integrated performance solutions
    • If training is the best solution, determine best training and development approach(es)
    • Assess cost/benefit of training and development approach(es); build a “business case”
    • Include organizational drivers needed to reinforce the critical behaviors that will affect problems/issues
    • Describe how the critical behaviors will be monitored and assessed after implementation of the improvement plan

The results of the needs assessment allows the training manager to set the training objectives by answering two very basic questions: what needs to be done, and why is it not being done now? Then, it is more likely that an accurate identification of whom, if anyone, needs training and what training is needed. Sometimes training is not the best solution, and it is virtually never the only solution. Some performance gaps can be reduced or eliminated through other management solutions, such as communicating expectations, providing a supportive work environment, and checking job fit. These interventions also are needed if training is to result in sustained new behaviors needed to achieve new performance levels, for an individual, an occupation, or an entire organization.

For more help developing a needs assessment process appropriate for your organization, contact ETi.

 

Information sourced from The US Office of Professional Development

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