Training is not a panacea. Training, however, is often treated like the kitchen drawer that holds all the sundries that no one wants to take the time to properly sort and store. There seems to be a notion that when in doubt, schedule a training session.
However, there are many things that do not work with this approach to training. It is important to take the time to research the reason for the training request. If we don’t, we risk training the wrong people on the wrong content at the wrong time. Not only is this a waste of time, energy and money for ourselves and others, it also ensures that training in general and professional training in particular is seen as irrelevant and unimportant.
A training needs assessment is the only way to verify and validate the need, focus, scope and target group of a training programme.
Training needs assessments can be proactive or reactive. In both cases, the goal of the training needs assessment is to identify performance problems that can be remedied by introducing, practicing, or reinforcing specific and measurable knowledge and/or skill sets.
Proactive training needs assessments initiate a strategic review of future organizational needs that will require new skills and competencies.These assessments tend to be more formal and systematized to determine the full spectrum of potential training needs across the organization. They may involve time-consuming evaluation strategies and specialized expertise, such as online surveys, focus groups, and knowledge tests.
Reactive Training Needs Assessments respond to requests to train previously identified employees on specific content.These assessments tend to be more informal in order to get a better idea of why the training is being requested and what the training is intended to accomplish. They typically involve appraisal strategies that are relatively quick and require basic skills in conducting one-on-one interviews with supervisors and/or employees, or reviewing performance data.
Regardless of whether your training needs assessment is proactive or reactive, you should determine that:
1. There is a verified performance issue that can be remedied through training.
Does the performance problem involve skills that can be taught? If so, then training is the answer. If the problem involves notification of a new or changed policy, then a memorandum or brief meeting may be the best resource. If the issue is individual employee performance, then performance management will be the best approach.
2. This issue is important enough that it needs to be addressed.
How critical will the consequences be for the organization if the training is not carried out? The relative importance of addressing this performance issue should be considered. Most organizations will have many different training needs, so it needs to be prioritized.
3. The right target audience has been identified.
What is the root cause of the performance issue and who is ultimately responsible? If employees are not performing satisfactorily, the typical assumption is that they lack certain knowledge or skills that can be taught. This may not be the case. Instead, their poor performance may actually be due to their supervisors’ or managers’ lack of delegation, communication, or planning skills. In this case, the appropriate target audience would be supervisors or managers, not employees.
4. Appropriate training content has been identified.
What knowledge, skills and/or behaviors need to be learned? Once the root cause of the performance problem has been located and the correct target audience has been identified, the content of the training can be specified. Content will be based on the knowledge and skills gap between current and desired performance.
5. The desired training results are realistic.
Can the desired learning be achieved within the allotted time frame? Expectations regarding the outcome of a training program may need to be managed. Training can only build skills incrementally. If there is a large skills gap that needs to be addressed then this may require more than one training session.
6. The training approach is profitable.
What is the most cost-effective way to develop the necessary skills? It is reasonable and cost-effective to schedule a training program if there is a need to develop new skills or upgrade and refresh existing skills for multiple employees. However, scheduling an entire training program to address isolated individual performance issues is neither appropriate nor cost effective. It may make more sense to send the individual employee to a public workshop, provide on-the-job training and guidance, or use an e-learning solution.
7. The training schedule is compatible with work schedules.
What are the limitations imposed by the working hours of the target group? If the target group works in different shifts, this should be taken into account when scheduling the training programme. Additionally, there may be times of the week or season when job responsibilities prohibit attendance at a training program.
Take the time to research training requests. Training needs assessments will help you avoid wasting your and others’ time and money, impugning training as a viable performance support, and harmonizing your credibility as a training professional.