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Thoughts on Improving the Training Needs Assessments Process

 In today’s manufacturing world, lean process improvements are an everyday event.  Yet, very often the training needs assessment process is pretty much as it has been for years.

This paper is a guide to achieving an improvement in the training needs assessment process by moving to a more formalized process.  Historically, the process of assessment was a variant of the following: ask shop floor supervisors where deficiencies existed in skills and then ask/gain input on the matter from shop floor employees. Or often the question was added as an agenda item to an already planned conversation or meeting with perhaps a different main topic/focus. The process was informal, with a focus on skill gaps existing now.  Consequently, the impact of training on business outcomes has been less than optimal. Our recommended new assessment process is targeted at 2018 and beyond. The assessment process has the following three goals: 

  • Identify the training needs to achieve future business goals
  • Involve three target groups: management, supervisors, and employees
  • Have a formal, repeatable, factual and annual process

Involve Three Target Group

An effective training needs assessment process uncovers and balances the goals and needs and desires of business leaders, the training leaders, and learners.

For business leaders, it establishes a clear set of strategic and tactical expectations. Often prioritized based on business value, those expectations are a critical element of perceived and actual value. It also connects the knowledge, skill, and achievement gaps to those expectations, improving the likelihood of defining tangible business value derived from training.

For training leaders, it helps address important challenges they face, including clearly understanding what training is needed and demonstrating the value of training based on the gaps it is designed to close. Training leaders also use the training needs assessment to inform important design decisions, improve the quality of the training, developing training that is engaging, and ensuring training changes behavior in a manner that supports business goals.

Learners will benefit because the training provided will focus on the important knowledge, skill, and achievement components that make up their work.  

In three stages, a training needs assessment will:

  • Expose and describe meaningful business goals
  • Focus on the role or roles that matter most to those goals
  • Identify knowledge, skill, and achievement gaps related to those goals
  • Identify and assess existing and available training.

The Three Stages to Improve the Training Needs Assessment Process

Stage 1: Uncover the Goals

Senior Stakeholders are often the primary source for insights into organizational goals, strategic direction, the organization’s tolerance for risk/innovation, and decisions regarding priorities and potential trade-offs. 

However, different leader stakeholders often have different goals which may be partly due to their role, organizational home, or functional goals. As such, it’s best to engage multiple stakeholders so they are not guided by a single perspective and, as a result, missing the mark. An effective training needs analysis finds an appropriate and reasonable balance among the stakeholders. 

Stakeholders provide insights and guidance to establish:

  • Why something should be done
    • What are the organizational goals?
    • What obstacles stand in the way?
    • How will achievement be measured?
  • Who will be impacted
    • Which role or roles are critical to achieving the goal or will be impacted by solving the problem?
  • What must change
    • What achievement has to change and how?

Stage 2: Nail Down the Gaps

Employees have an important part to play in the training needs assessment process. Their input will focus on the work itself. They will describe how it looks when work is done at the highest level and provide insights into areas where there are issues.

When the training needs assessment process is properly structured and consistently applied, SMEs will be able to fully describe the requirements of the job, including:

  • Work outcomes and outputs
  • Process tasks
  • Important job-specific measures
  • Knowledge and skill requirements
  • Related gaps in knowledge, skill, and achievement

Many organizations have considerable documentation available that describe the roles, processes, and related accountabilities of each job. In addition, they often have data measuring actual achievement the role or process, highlighting gaps and focal points for the needs assessment. Such data should be reviewed and evaluated and can be included in the assessment.

Stage 3: Assess Existing Training

The goal of assessing existing training is to determine which training is “fit for use” and determine where needed training is missing.  It starts with inventorying available training.

Uncovering widely used training is often relatively easy, but we also look to uncover the little-used or hard to find training. Each training product will be assessed for how well it addresses the knowledge, skill, and achievement requirements and, in effect, how well it supports the business goals. 

The benefit of this kind of assessment is that high-quality training will be identified and poor or unneeded training is eliminated, and marginal training can be improved.  

Conclusion

A successful training needs analysis balances the needs and goals of the organization, the learning function, and the learner and ensures the organization is focused on high-value and high-impact training initiatives.

About the Authors

Brian Blecke is a consultant and learning strategist with more than 25 years’ experience. As a founding partner of Actio Learning, he uses a diverse set of tools, models, and experiences to help his clients align learning outcomes to business goals, design innovative learning solutions, and create measurable achievement improvement. Contact him at bblecke@actiolearning.com

Marty Abbott is one of the foremost experts on training grants and new jobs and retained jobs incentives, having over 20 years of experience in that area. Contact him at marty.abbott@the-imgroup.com.