Shirley J. Caruso, Ed.D.
A need for training exists when there is a gap between the desired performance (what a person is required to do in order to perform his/her job competently) and the actual performance (how a person is performing his/her job presently). This gap is referred to as a skills gap. In other words, a skills gap is the difference between the skills, knowledge and/or abilities needed for the job and the skills, knowledge, and/or abilities possessed by the employee.
Performing a needs analysis is the first step in designing instruction and is critical for a successful training program. The purpose of a needs analysis is to determine whether or not training is the best solution to the problem and identify what type of training (or performance support) is needed to fill the skills gap. This step is often overlooked by organizations due to time or budget constraints or lack of apparent worth. However, overlooking or eliminating the needs analysis can cause significant problems. Time, money, and valuable resources may be wasted on unnecessary or ineffective training.
A needs analysis is conducted for the following reasons:
- To determine whether training is needed to close or narrow the skills gap
- To determine causes of poor performance
- To determine content and scope of training
- To determine desired training outcomes
- To provide a basis of measurement
- To gain management support
Performing a training needs analysis is most appropriate when training is requested for a problem (performance issue), rollout (when new information systems or business processes are introduced), people development, and strategy development.
The Six Essential Steps to Conducting a Training Needs Analysis
Step One – Identify/Analyze Problem Needs
In the step, the need is clarified, the central initiator of the problem is determined, and expectations in the process are clarified.
Step Two – Determine Design of Needs Analysis
In this step, the questions that need to be answered are determined as well as the informational/data resources.
Step Three – Collect Data
In this step, the data collection methods are determined, and a plan for data collection is developed and implemented.
Step Four – Analyze Data
In this step, data is organized and interpreted.
Step Five – Form Conclusions
In this step, a report is written, an oral presentation is made, and a determination is made as to whether or not training is the next step.
Step Six – Develop Action Plan
In this step, the results are used as the basis for training design, development and evaluation, if it is determined that training is the best solution to the problem.
Conducting a thorough training needs analysis is highly recommended but may not always be possible with constraints such as time, budget, and resources. Rather than completely by-stepping the analysis, perform an analysis with the time, budget, and resources available. At the very minimum, clarify the need, define the skills gap (what the employee is doing versus what he/she should be doing), determine the central initiator, and develop an action plan.