How to Conduct an Effective Training Needs Assessment

How to Conduct an Effective Training Needs Assessment

The most highly functioning organizations achieve their success because their employees are skilled and confident in the work they’re hired to do. So how can you ensure your employees are meeting the requirements of their job descriptions? A Training Needs Assessment (TNA) is a great place to start. Here are some tips on how to conduct a training needs assessment the right way.

A leader in soft skills training materials, HRDQ offers a full library of print and online assessments to help assess your training needs and measure the competencies of your workforce.

“What is” vs “What should be”

The goal of a training needs assessment is to identify current competencies and skills and compare them to the required or established standard for that position. This process helps management make informed decisions about how to address competency gaps and identify trends across your organization. Conducting a TNA helps you pinpoint:

  • How employees learn and are motivated to learn
  • What employees already know and what they expect
  • Where the critical needs are at your organization
  • Priorities for training and development
  • Goals that intervention will help address
  • Baseline data on which to measure success and progress

When Do I Start?

While this kind of assessment can be conducted at any time, they’re often done:

  • Following hiring
  • Around performance review season
  • When improvement is needed
  • During succession planning
  • When your organization is changing role functions

It’s helpful to proactively and regularly conduct these assessments to ensure your employees feel equipped to do their jobs, are aware of the associated requirements, and have an enriching and positive experience. Regular assessments and training programs can also benefit organizational productivity and success.

How Do I Start?

You can start by breaking the process into three phases: identification, analysis, and reporting.

1. Identify Performance Gaps

This phase accounts for the bulk of your training needs assessment process, aiming to find any gaps between the “what is” and “what should be” that we mentioned earlier. That means examining the current state of knowledge, skills, and abilities among your workforce and comparing it with what’s expected as outlined in standards, policies, and procedures. The gap and trends you identify are the performance gaps, and identifying them will help you understand the full landscape of your workforce, including:

  • Issues or shortcomings with current training practices
  • Opportunities for new training techniques
  • Areas to update training requirements when you introduce new policies or procedures
  • What’s working well already and how to replicate that

The best way to learn the answers is to ask. This process involves sitting down with employees at all levels of your organization and asking them the right questions. Or, if your organization is too big for this process to be done in person, you can perform a survey. Either option will work well with this suggested process, as long you structure it around understanding both the employee landscape and the training landscape.

Start with Senior Level Management

Start your survey process with the leaders who are setting the organizational goals. You’ll want to first get any big-picture objectives, so you can be sure the goals you’re setting for employees measure up accordingly. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What are your priorities for the organization this year? In ten years?
  • What results do you expect? How are we tracking against those expectations?
  • What can employees do to meet these expectations better?
  • What are “core competencies” for reaching these goals?
  • What’s causing the gap between actual and expected performance? (E.g. workplace culture, lack of resources or support, few incentives)

Move to Middle Management

After surveying senior management, move to middle management, the individuals directly supervising the employees. Here, it’s good to get a sense of how organizational priorities are being applied at a practical level. Since they work closely with employees, this group of people can help to provide first-hand, anecdotal evidence of performance gaps, pain points, and strengths. Consider these questions for your analysis:

  • What standards would the ideal job candidate be able to meet?
  • What have top-performing employees done to be successful? (E.g., was it more robust training, a certain set of prior work experience that equipped them, on-the-job scenarios?)
  • What trainings are currently in place for new employees? How do they learn how to do their job?
  • What resources are available to employees, and do they know where to find support?
  • What patterns of success or challenges are you seeing amongst your employees?
  • How often do you conduct performance reviews with your employees? What do those look like?
  • What do you think would better equip employees to perform at expected levels?

Survey the Front Lines

Get in with the employees who are actually doing the work. This is the group you’re trying to evaluate, and you want to make sure you’re asking them the right questions about their roles, their work, and their understanding of their position. Make sure you consider these questions for your assessment:

  • Demographic information (description of their role, how long they’ve been with the company, etc.)
  • How well prepared did you feel for your job before you started?
  • What training was available at the onset of your hire to help you learn how to do your job?
  • What kinds of ongoing training is provided to help you continue learning?
  • How supported do you feel in your current role?
  • What level do you feel your job performance is at? (Beginner, intermediate, expert?)
  • What opportunities would help you feel better equipped to do your job?

2. Analyze the Results

A thorough analysis will help you understand trainable competencies as well as what percentage of employees need training and  For example, if only a small department needs extra training, an in-person workshop may be best. However, if it’s an organization-wide issue, you may consider developing eLearning modules and making those modules a requirement for annual reviews.

In this stage, you’ll collate all of your interviews or survey responses into an organized and systematic scale to help you understand the entire landscape of skills across your organization.

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3. Report Your Findings & Act

After conducting a training needs assessment, it’s important to take notes on the process. This report helps to formalize and systematize your results so that you can report to your organization’s leaders and make succinct, informed recommendations. The results should provide direction on what training is required, who needs it, when it will take place and how it will be delivered. Typical reports are outlined as follows:

  • Executive summary: Summarize the entirety of your undertaking, from the need and the process to the key findings and next steps. This is the report’s most important and, likely, most-read section.
  • Purpose: Why was the training needs assessment completed, and what were the expected results?
  • Data gathering and analysis methods: How was the data gathered and analyzed?
  • Analysis findings: What did the data show? Try to illustrate with charts, graphs, visuals, and anecdotes.
  • Recommendations: What training is needed and why? Who should you train? How should the training be delivered?
  • Evaluation methods: How was your process evaluated for effectiveness? Do you have feedback to share from participants?
  • Summary: Summarize each section and conclude with an explanation of how the proposed next steps link back to your organization's objectives.

Your Turn

Once you conduct a training needs assessment, it is easy to establish a streamlined process and to continue to keep a pulse on the training and the development needs of your employees. Whether it’s a quarterly employee survey, biannual meetings, and interviews or an addition to the annual review process, a solid TNA practice will make all the difference at your organization; from the executives setting objectives to the employees working to achieve them. 

Once you’ve identified training needs in your organization, turn to the expansive library of training materials available at HRDQ. From communication skills and leadership training to team building, customer service, and more, we make it easy to shop by topic and find the materials you need to build an effective training program.

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