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HR Talk: Training needs analysis — the design of an effective training programme

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The starting point in designing an effective training and development programme is to conduct a needs assessment.

The assessment begins with a “need” which can be identified in several ways, but is generally described as a gap between what is currently in place and what is needed, now and in the future.

These can include discrepancies/differences between what the organisation expects to happen and what actually happens, current and desired job performance, existing and desired competencies and skills.

An analysis of a training need is an essential requirement to the design of effective training.

Its major purpose is to determine whether there is a gap between what is required for effective performance and present level of performance.

There are a number of practical methods that can be use to gather data about employees’ performance.

Each method works well in given circumstances; there is therefore need to determine which one suits best. None of these methods can stand alone so there is need to use a combination of two or more.

From among those you choose, it is recommended that you include observation. Let us now examine some of the methods that can be used to gather data about employee performance.

Observation: In this approach, an employee’s performance itself is your source of information. Worker’s performance is assessed through first-hand observation and analysis.

This is best accomplished by watching the worker and playing the role of non-participating observer.

This means that you watch and listen and evaluate what you see and hear, but do not get involved in the employee’s work process in any way.

The objective during observations is to identify both the strengths to build on and the deficiencies to overcome.

A key advantage of using direct observation in the needs analysis is that you gain first-hand knowledge and understanding of the job being performed and the strengths and weaknesses of the relevant worker.

Interviews: The use of interviews in conducting the needs analysis is strongly encouraged. The prime value of interview guides is that they ensure the same types of data from all sources.

This allows you to determine whether a piece of information is one person’s opinion, or part of a widespread perception.

Since the interview guide forces you to ask each worker a number of predetermined questions, there is need to select those questions that are essential to what you are trying to learn.

Interviews allow face-to-face interaction with employees to discuss their impressions of performance.

Because you are in conversation with employees, you can explore their responses in depth. You can ask for clarification of comments and for examples of what they mean. In this way, you obtain a full understanding of their performance deficiencies.

Questionnaires: A questionnaire is a sort of interview on paper. This can be created by writing down all the questions you want employees to answer for you which you then distribute to them and await their responses.

The key advantage of a questionnaire is that you can include every person from whom you want input.

Employees can complete the questionnaire at their own time.

There is no need to travel and spend time with all respondents. Every employee is asked identical questions and consequently data is very easy to compile and analyse.

Questionnaires can be useful in obtaining a “bigger picture” of what a large number of employees think while allowing everyone to feel that they have had an opportunity to participate in the needs analysis process.

Job descriptions: Before establishing a job description, a job analysis should be undertaken.

This job analysis involves a thorough study of all responsibilities of the relevant job. It is company-wide in scope and should be detailed to such a degree that those conducting the training can use the job analysis as a yardstick for their course content.

After the job analysis phase has been completed, the writing of job description and needs analysis will be a relatively simple task.

When an employee’s job description has been defined, the trainer can easily tailor their training curriculum to a very close proximity of what will be expected of the employees.

Problem-solving conference and suggestions: Another time-tested technique for gathering needs analysis material from employees is to conduct periodic problem -solving conferences which may take the form of or be part of a plan for a new product, task or technology, or tied in with a training programme.

It is always advisable to utilise an outside consultant to moderate such sessions.

This outside engagement has the advantage of allowing the workers to express their feelings about their organisation and the session can then be geared to training needs.

The current problems will evolve that represent potential areas for training.

Appraisal reviews: During the periodic counselling performance interview, an employee should be questioned regarding the duties and training of a worker.

Comments rendered during the appraisal interviews normally are genuine and can frequently assist in establishing the needs, variations and penetrations that a training programme should include.

Feed- back at appraisal interview time is valuable since it is timely information.

Training needs differ from worker to worker and appraisal sessions allow the employee and supervisor / manager to uncover the cause of weaknesses in performance. These deficiencies represent areas for training.

Motivation: The extent of an employee’s development depends on his motivations. Identifying the forces that cause an employee to behave in a certain way may be useful in determining his individual training needs and how to stimulate his desire to fulfill that need.

An analysis of this kind, for example, may determine that the employee has an urgent need for self-confidence.

Their individual programme should be made to stress the importance of attitude, skills etc, and any other assets that would give them this self-confidence.

It is therefore incumbent upon the training and development professional to come up with the right mix of methods that best enable analysis of training needs.

Paul Nyausaru is training and development practitioner. Views contained in this article are personal. You can contact him on email pnyausaru@yahoo.co.uk pnyausaru@gmail.com

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