Approaches to Training Needs Assessment

by Employers Council Staff

Member Matters,  Training and Development

The conversation happens in HR and training departments all the time:

“We should do some training.”

“I agree. Where should we start?”

“I guess we should do a needs assessment. Got any ideas?”

It should be simple, right? Notice a performance issue, collect some information, identify training needs, and implement the training. Done. Unfortunately, what looks simple on paper, can become difficult in application.

What the needs assessment should focus on, and how the information should be collected are common questions that can trip up even experienced trainers.

What should be the focus of the needs assessment?

Training needs assessments can focus on any variety of items:

• Subjective attitudes and opinions about perceived training needs

• Objective measures of current skills and knowledge

• Concrete samples of day-to-day work

• Observations and feedback from others

All of these are aspects that can be explored during the needs assessment process. Each adds a unique dimension of contributing factors to help manage the gap identified in the original performance issue.

However, to include all of these requires a variety of techniques and data collection devices. What kinds of needs assessment approaches should be employed? Ultimately, there is no one “best” needs assessment technique.

There are pros and cons to each.

• Surveys – Surveys are probably the most common methodology of needs assessment. A wellcrafted survey can allow you to collect a variety of information about perceived training needs from a large volume of people. The drawback—the responses are only as good as the questions you ask.

• Interviews – One-on-one conversations and focus groups can be great ways to find out about training needs. While these can provide personal and in-depth data about training needs, they also take time to collect and summarize the information, especially with larger groups.

• Tests – Standardized, validated tests can be an excellent resource for objective information about individuals’ knowledge and skills. However, if predeveloped tests are not available, test construction can take a lot of time and resources.

• Observation – Watching people engage in the real work in their real environment can provide valuable insights about performance and performance issues. However, every minute spent observing others is a lost minute that could have been spent with other training and development activities.

• Work Product Review – Evaluating finished work product of others, reviewing performance documents, and even collecting information directly from customers can provide good information about training needs. However, these are just a “snapshot” in time, missing information about the context of the work and events surrounding individual performance.

Hopefully, these tips and thoughts allow your next needs assessment to feel just a bit more simple. Still feeling overwhelmed? Give us a call. Happy to help.

About the author
Employers Council Staff