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How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis (2021)

A training needs analysis is a series of activities conducted to identify problems or other issues in the workplace. It determines whether – and what – training is an appropriate response.

The needs analysis is usually the first step taken in a process of change. Usually, there is a gap between the current and the desired individual and organizational performance. A needs analysis specifically defines that gap.

Corporate training is a huge market. In 2019, it was valued at over $330 billion. It’s also rapidly expanding, set to grow nearly 10% every year. By 2027, it’s expected to exceed $415 billion in value. The last years – and 2020 especially – have seen a shift towards virtual training, but in-person training is just as important.

Not all of that training is really necessary – or well-executed. There’s a real need for accurate data on what an employee or group of employee needs to improve performance. A good Training Needs Analysis can give you this data. Investing in a deep analysis pays off, because it reduces resources wasted on ineffective training. Well-chosen training ups performance in the long run – and, finally, keeps high achievers in your company. 

Who Conducts a Training Needs Analysis, and Why?

Both an in-house trainer or a consultant can perform a needs analysis to collect and document information. They’ll look for data on any of the following three issues:

  1. Performance problems
  2. Anticipated introduction of new system, task, or technology
  3. A desire by the organization to benefit from a perceived opportunity

In all three situations, the starting point is a desire to effect a certain change. Given this, you must know how the people who will experience the change perceive it. In the absence of a needs analysis, you may find employees and even managers resistant to change and reluctant to training. They may be unable to transfer their newly acquired skills to their jobs because of the organizational constraints.

A needs analysis often reveals the need for well-targeted training areas. Keep in mind, though, that training is not always the best way to close a particular gap between an organization’s goals and its actual performance. Those conducting the needs analysis must get a clear idea of the problem first. Then, they’ll look at all possible remedies and report their findings to management. Finally, there’ll be a decision on the best solution.

How Organizations Can Benefit

When done properly, a training needs analysis is a wise investment for the organization. It saves time, money, and effort by working on the right problems.

Organizations that fail to support needs analysis make costly mistakes. They use training when another method would have been more effective. They use too much or too little training. Or they may use training but fail to follow up on it. A well-performed analysis provides the information that can lead to solutions that focus on the areas of greatest need.

Conducting a training needs analysis is a systematic process. It uses specific information-gathering techniques.  A needs analysis has stages, with the findings of one stage affecting and helping to shape the next one. There is no easy formula or short-cut for carrying out this process. Each particular situation requires its own mix of observing, probing, analyzing, and deducting.

In many ways, the needs analysis is like detective work. You follow up on every lead and check every piece of information. You’ll examine every alternative before drawing any solid conclusions. Only then you can be sure of having the evidence on which to base a sound strategy for problem solving.

A training needs analysis is not a one-time event. Professional organizations administer needs analysis at regular intervals, usually every year or two.

Why Training Sometimes Fails

The majority of companies have developed training schemes for new hires and veteran employees. Their quality varies, of course. But that aside, these companies have the advantage over those that don’t – and these aren’t few. About 40% of businesses lack formal training programs, and 32% don’t even have formal instruction to develop employees’ and new hires’ skills.

The root cause is this: Training is seen as a costly expense with an uncertain return. That means that results will vary. Moreover, they are difficult to quantify in the first place. Organizations naturally tend to minimize this type of expense, trying to cut costs by cutting corner. They’re unwilling to use resources for a proper Training Needs Analysis. After all, a proper one does take a lot of work and work-hours.

Instead, managers or HR departments will recommend training for employees or groups of them. For this, they may rely on data from performance reviews, but often go with instinct, or just select what training they’re already familiar with.

Under these circumstances, the chance that training actually fitting the underlying issues or needs are low. Performance often does not improve – and the organization’s initial assumption of uncertain return is then fulfilled.

With a proper training needs analysis, this process can be a lot more targeted, and companies can break out of the vicious circle of bad training.

Risks of Skipping Training Needs Analyses

But there are more risks than wasting resources on inefficient and ineffective training. The problem may just not lay with the employees. Leadership training, for instance, often fails because the existing system at an organization resists meaningful change.

Long-term mismatch between employee needs and training can result in top performers leaving companies for those that do offer good training. The cost of finding a replacement can be substantial. Such people will also avoid applying for a job at a company that neglects training in the first place.

Younger employees – Millennials and Gen Z – are especially focused on continued education. They make training a core factor for their choice of employer – preferring it even over higher salaries.

Ultimately, this drains your company of its best employees and makes it harder to hire new ones. This can do severe damage to your business operations, services, and finally your bottom line.

Methods of Identifying Training Needs

Training needs will differ with the backgrounds of the employees to be trained. It’ll also depend their present status in the organization. Basically, a candidate for training may come from any one of three groups:

1. New hires
2. Veteran employees
3. Trainees currently in the training pipeline (those currently in a training program)

These groups have varying needs. These form a frame of reference for discussing and suggesting methods for identifying training needs.

Training New Hires

Adding new employees creates peaks and lows  and low peaks in placing new persons into the training program. This problem may be solved by a program where hires progress through training in different sequences. This will eliminate the jams that will occur if all phases of the program must be taken in a fixed order.

The new employees will normally be of somewhat different backgrounds. Being new, they are not familiar with their new employers. As a result, the earliest phases of the training must concentrate on company orientation.

During these phases, the organization, organization policies and administrative details should be covered. It is also a suitable time to acquaint the trainees with what will be expected of him, and how he will be evaluated throughout the phase of training.

Retaining & Upgrading Veteran Employees

The people in this category offer a real challenge to the training department. Therefore, the number and amount of training required by this category should be carefully considered. Often the retraining and upgrading of former employees can be very rewarding for training instructors.

At least two schools of thought exist as to how these employees should be rekindled. There are advantages in keeping this group intact and tailoring the program to their needs. On the other hand, this category of employees can also make significant contribution to training if they are mingled with the new hires.

Supporting Employees in the Training Pipeline

A good training program will normally have participants in various phases of completion. Both training staff and an employee supervisor should be aware of completion dates. They’ll also need to know which tasks the employee will work on.

A trainee should have a challenge in all phases of his training. They should not be limited to those phases where the pipeline employee is sitting in a classroom. There will be periods between formal classes. During those times, employees should complete thorough interim test-work. For one, this work solidifies what they learned in the prior phase. For another, it serves as preparation for the coming phases.

Analysis Techniques for Determining Specific Training Needs

There are several methods you can use to gather data about employees’ performance. Each works well in different circumstances. Thus, you’ll need to determine which be the best for you. None of these methods can stand alone. Always use at least two, if for no other reason than to confirm your findings. One of those you choose should always be observation.

1. Observation

In this approach, an employee’s performance itself is you source of information. You evaluate a worker’s performance through first-hand observation and analysis. This is best accomplished by watching the worker as a non-participating observer. This means that you watch and listen and evaluate what you see and hear. What you won’t do is get involved in his work process in any way.

To make this activity more productive, create and use a checklist to remind you of what to look for and take notes. It can be very job-specific: This checklist example specifically concerns asbestos removal workers.

Your goal as an observer is to identify both strengths to build on and deficiencies to overcome. A key advantage of using direct observation in the needs analysis is that you gain first-hand knowledge. You’ll better understand of the job performed. It also shows you the strengths and weaknesses of the relevant worker.

2.  Interviews

The use of interviews in conducting the needs analysis is strongly urged. It’s also advisable to create an interview guide ahead of time. The Society of Human Resource management has put together a template. The prime value of interview guides is that they ensure the same types of data from all sources. This allows you to find out whether a piece of information is one person’s opinion, or a widespread perception.

An interview guide forces you to ask each worker a number of predetermined questions. Therefore, you must select questions that are essential to what you are trying to learn.

Interviews allow you to meet employees face to face to discuss their impressions of performance. Because you are in conversation with workers, you can explore their responses in depth. You can ask or clarification of comments and for examples of what they mean. In this way, you obtain a full understanding of their performance deficiencies.

Interviewing employees has a few other, less obvious benefits for you:

  • Ask intelligent questions and listen well to the answers. This builds your own credibility with your interviewees.
  • You gain the employees’ personal involvement and commitment to your efforts.
  • You establish personal relationships with potential trainees. These bonds are important to your success as a needs analyst and trainer.

3.  Questionnaires

A questionnaire is a sort of interview on paper. You create your own questionnaire by writing down all the questions you want your employees to answer for you. Then you mail it to them and await their responses. It’s usually not a bad idea to also give them some incentive to answer it.

The key advantage of a questionnaire is that you can include every person from whom
You want input. Employees can complete the questionnaire when and where they choose. You need not travel and spend time with all respondents. Every employee is asked the same questions, and consequently data is very easy to compile and analyze.

Questionnaires can be useful in obtaining a ‘big picture’ of employee’s impressions. At the same time, they allow everyone to feel that they had a chance to take part in the needs analysis process.

4.  Job Descriptions

Before establishing a job description, carry out a job analysis. This involves a thorough study of all responsibilities of the relevant job. The scope is company-wide. The analysis should go into detail. Trainers should be able to use the job analysis as a yardstick for their course content.

A job analysis simplifies both writing the job description and the needs analysis. With a description of an employee’s job, trainers can tailor his training curriculum. Training can then very closely approximate what will be expected of the employees.

5. The Difficulty Analysis

A job analysis focuses on enumerating the numerous duties that a worker must perform. A difficulty analysis determines which duties cause the employee the most trouble. It can then make suggestions on how to reduce this trouble through better training.

There are several key advantages to a good difficulty analysis. Here are just two of them:

  • The needs analyst can assign priorities to certain aspects of the training. These priorities will depend on the expected difficulty that the worker will face coping with those duties.
  • A well-done difficulty analysis provides example material. The training program can make use of role-playing material and situations.

6. Problem Solving Conference

This is another time-tested technique for gathering needs analysis material from employees. Problem-solving conferences can be conducted periodically. It may take the form of – or be part of – a plan for a new product, task or technology, or can tie in with a training program.

It is always helpful to utilize an outside consultant to moderate such sessions. This outside sponsorship lets workers express their feelings about the organization more candidly. The current problems will become apparent that represent potential areas for training. This allows you to better gear the session to training needs.

7.  Appraisal Reviews

The periodic counseling performance interview is another opportunity to gather data. Question employees on the duties and training of a worker. Comments during the appraisal interviews are usually genuine. They help establish the needs, variations, and penetrations to include in the training program.

Feedback at appraisal interview time is valuable since it is timely information. Appraisal sessions are also relevant because training needs differ from worker to worker. Together, the employee and supervisor or manager can uncover the cause of weaknesses in performance. These deficiencies represent areas for training.

8.  Drive Pattern Identity

The extent of an employee’s development depends on his motivations. It’s useful to identify the forces that cause an employee to behave in certain ways. It can help determine his individual training needs. It’ll also give you ideas on how to stimulate his desire to fulfill that need.

An analysis of this kind may find out that the employee has an urgent need for self-confidence. His individual program can be tailored to suit that need. It should stress the importance of attitude, skills, and any other assets. These are all things that would give him this self-confidence.

9.  Analysis of Organizational Policy

Organization policy will affect the amount of training offered. An explanation of various policies is something you should cover in the training program. Of particular concern are those policies that involve the training programs themselves. These might govern designing, changing, and major revisions of programs.

Sometimes, you need to show great sensitivity towards current policies and expected changes. These situations include merger activity, product diversification, or penetration of a new market.

Three Things to Keep in Mind During Training Needs Analysis

Whatever the method used to identify training needs, at least the following three points must be kept in view:

  1. Use these methods in combination; that is, never rely on just one method.
  2. You can identify the training needs of each of the various groups of employees.
  3. Ultimately, apply the analysis to individual employee. Training needs will vary with the individual employee.