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Knowing the need to know: determining your organisation’s training needs

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 15:12

We spend a lot of our time at AIM thinking about the training needs of Australian managers and leaders. As the first education provider in Australia to use the Harvard Case Study method in business education, we’ve always been on the lookout for the best way to provide cutting edge professional education products to experienced managers. One of the many methods that we use to develop our training programs and one that we also teach in our suite of Training and Assessment Programs is a training needs analysis.

A training needs analysis examines the gap between the knowledge, skills and attitudes that people in an organisation currently have, versus the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to meet the organisation’s objectives. This type of analysis is often required as a result of performance issues, adoption of new systems and training conducted traditionally to meet some legal or regulatory requirement. The training needs analysis itself is often a response to a business issue to identify the need for specific training, and who needs it in order to solve the issue.

Several other circumstances that could result in the need for a training needs analysis to be conducted include:

  • When new business opportunities are identified. While most organisations would love to be agile enough to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, consideration needs to be given to staff that have may well-honed abilities in one competency but require support to transition into a new market.
  • When current training programs need revision. In a dynamic business environment, a training program that at one stage provided the latest skillsets and knowledge may have become obsolete. Don’t wait for your competitors to teach you the latest skillsets your employees should have.
  • When jobs are upgraded or new responsibilities are assumed by employees. While an employee may have shown a level of technical proficiency in their area that has earmarked them for promotion and greater responsibility, consideration should be given to transitioning employees into the upper rungs of an organisation.
  • When organisations restructure, experience rapid growth or have to downsize. Some organisations may remove layers of management and ask frontline managers to assume greater reporting responsibilities or an organisation may have to take on a large cohort of customer service staff in a short period of time. Either way, large scale organisational change should always be associated with well-designed training.

It is equally important that any training flowing from a training needs analysis supports the needs of the organisation and provides some measure of return on the training investment. While some training needs will be self-evident, others may be more elusive. Often your training needs analysis, or the need that a client has stated, will give you only limited information about the learners.

For example, a client may state that they are introducing a new software package to run their core operations and that several teams will need to be trained. You could make a broad assumption that the software is new and that the learners will know nothing of its use and will all need comprehensive training.

Alternatively, you could conduct a more thorough needs analysis by asking these types of questions:

  • How different is the new software compared to the old?
  • Is the new software more or less complex than the old?
  • In what ways will the new software necessitate new ways of doing existing work?
  • Will the new software require the learners to do new types of work?
  • Who will use the new software and for what purpose?
  • Is there a distinction between users (e.g. occasional users versus super users)?

It is only by drilling down into the specifics that trainers and assessors can truly understand the learning need and produce training interventions appropriate to the learning audiences. Another key consideration when determining learning needs is the extent to which training will add value. More importantly, the trainer/assessor should explore the implications (both positive and negative) of not providing a training intervention.

When a need for functional of professional development is identified, it’s often the default thinking to assume that formal training of some description will be the answer. In many situations this will indeed be the most appropriate way to help employees develop. Given the multitude of possible development wants or needs, there are also many other avenues that can be explored in order to support workplace learning.

Irrespective of the solution that is proposed and designed it is imperative that those involved in the process understand the commercial impact of workplace training. Regardless of the organisational context and the means by which learning needs are identified and addressed, there will always some form of cost (money, time, resources). In this regard it becomes essential that only the right people should be trained in the right things, by the right channel, for the right reasons at the right times.

AIM’s Design Training Programs short course focuses on the development of competence in conceptualising, designing, developing and evaluating learning programs to meet an identified Vocational Education and Training (VET) need, based on guidelines provided in nationally recognised training packages.