Training Needs Assessment

According to various pundits, there are several steps involved with the design of training programs. However, one of the foremost is the needs assessment.

Needs assessment includes scanning and recognizing areas of human performance that do not meet identified performance objectives, which are determined by company strategic plans and mission. Typically, this is caused by organizational environmental changes such as global economics, changes in technology, employee attrition, recruitment, and regulatory changes.

The process by which needs assessment occurs is described in three phases. First, the ‘pressure point’ is observed by needs scanning. This pressure point is the discontinuity between what is desired in performance and what is being observed, and can be identified by observing changes in output quality, quantity, or other quantifiable and pertinent variables.

The second phase is the determination of the context (who needs training) and in what area(s). Typically, context involves an organizational analysis in order to determine the problem and the resources available to provide a correction. For example, if the quality of a specific output is low, then an organizational analysis will determine if it is significant given the company’s strategy, and whether available resources should be committed for a training intervention.

In determining the person in need of training, it must be concluded whether it is knowledge, skill, or attitude that is the root cause of the pressure point or problem. Using a quality example, once a specific employee has been identified as the cause of the problem, the cause could be:

  1. Lack of knowledge – perhaps the employee is using a new piece of equipment and does not fully understand how to operate it properly.
  2. Lack of skill – perhaps the employee is using a new piece of equipment and fully understands how to operate it properly, but has little experience and has not mastered its capabilities.
  3. Attitude issues — perhaps the employee does not understand the importance of their performance in overall quality impact on quality and viability.

Employee readiness is another key aspect of the needs assessment phase. If employees are not receptive to learning or do not have the ability to learn the necessary skills, knowledge, or attitudes, then training will likely not be very effective. Some key characteristics of employee learning readiness include:

  1. Characteristics of the person – does the person in question want to learn? Do they have the ability and skill to learn? This requires cognitive ability, reading ability, self-efficacy (belief in success), and awareness of their needs, goals, and career interests.
  2. Inputs – are the necessary resources, directives, and learning adjuncts available to the employee in order for them to learn? Is there a place where learning can be initiated without distraction? Are learning materials available?
  3. Outputs – are standards available by which learning success can be measured?
  4. Consequences – learning requires effort, which requires incentives for success. Are there any positive incentives that will entice the employee to learn? Do they understand what is in it for them?
  5. Feedback – are performance measurement systems in place by which training effectiveness can be measured against given standard (an output, as previously mentioned)?

Finally, this second assessment phase includes a task analysis in order to determine the key subject of the training effort.  For example, is the low quality a result of poor training in how to use quality assessment tools, or is it how to properly operate machinery?

The final phase of assessment is the outcome. Typical assessment outcomes include:

  1. Who needs to be trained
  2. What trainees need to learn
  3. Types of training to be used
  4. Initial frequency of training
  5. Use of alternative HR options (such as job rotation)

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