How do you know if the marketing team at your company needs training to write ads that actually sell customers your product? Or if your IT team needs improved security training to keep your company safe? Even if you know that training is needed, how can you figure out the best way to deliver the information?
That’s where training needs assessment and training needs analysis come in.
Skip ahead here:
- What is a training needs assessment?
- Why training needs assessments are important
- 3 levels of training needs assessment
- How to actually do a training needs assessment
- So, what’s next?
- FAQs on training needs assessments
A training needs assessment (TNA) is an assessment that helps you determine what training your team or team members need to reach their goals. Think of it like triage in an emergency room—you aren’t receiving treatment just yet. The goal is to identify the problem.
After identifying the problem, a patient would move to a new location for treatment. And just like in the hospital, once you’ve identified the issue in your organization, it’s time to move on to the treatment, which brings us to the training needs analysis.
Training needs analysis is often used interchangeably with training needs assessment, but they’re two different things. With an analysis, you’ll take the assessment one step further and determine how to best resolve the problem you identified. Because the two processes work together, we’ll cover both in this article.
TNAs are generally used by HR or learning and development professionals to identify gaps between employees’ expected level of performance and how they’re currently performing. However, they can also be used by online course creators to determine what their audience wants to learn and how they can best deliver that content.
Depending on the context, you might see “training needs assessment” or “learning needs assessment.” These can be used interchangeably, as they refer to the same process. Some professionals simply prefer to deemphasize the corporate feel of “training” and emphasize “learning.”
A good training needs assessment examines existing training on 3 different levels.
The organizational analysis looks at the organization as a whole—including the company strategy and goals for the future. Specifically, you examine the knowledge, skills, and abilities employees will need to aid the organization’s success as it evolves.
For example, say your small tech company is looking to implement new training before working to expand its product range. In this step, you might find that the organization doesn’t have a culture that welcomes new training programs, which could harm the company moving forward.
What’s important at this step is that your focus is on the organization as a whole. By aligning your training initiatives with the direction of your organization, you’ll be more likely to accomplish your goals.
It’s helpful to ask questions like:
- Where is training needed within the organization?
- What problem would training address?
- What specific group would benefit from this training?
- How might the organization evolve in the next few years? What training might we need to prepare?
This is sometimes referred to as task analysis, and it looks at job requirements vs. how employees are performing in those jobs. This involves reviewing job descriptions to determine the knowledge and skills required to perform the tasks, as well as analyzing your employees’ current knowledge and skills.
To continue with our example, once you’ve worked on the culture at your small tech business, it’s time to begin developing your products. An occupational assessment could help you to determine what smaller units in your organization need to move forward effectively. For example, maybe the developers need to learn a new coding language.
Some questions to consider asking are:
- How is current job performance?
- What should job performance be to align with company goals?
- What operational problems are contributing to performance issues?
This is the last of the 3 levels within the larger learning needs assessment. The individual assessment examines how each employee performs in their role, giving you an idea of who needs to learn what.
Similar to occupational assessment, you’re looking for discrepancies between expected performance and current performance—but on an individual instead of a departmental scale. This can be done using information from employee performance reviews.
For example, say your company recently discovered it needs to improve its cybersecurity. An online phishing training software may email your employees, asking them to click on links. These programs can alert you to the employees who opened and engaged with the phishing emails, highlighting specific individuals who need additional cybersecurity training.
Some questions to consider are:
- Do employees possess the necessary knowledge and skills to meet performance standards?
- What is stopping employees from performing efficiently?
- What training programs could help employees meet standards?
Ok, now you understand the 3 levels your training needs assessment can cover. But how do you actually conduct your assessment?
This can vary from industry to industry, business to business, and team to team—so it may look different for everyone. Let’s look at completing the assessment and/or analysis in six simple steps.
And remember, a training needs assessment aims to determine what training is needed in your organization and who needs the training. The training needs analysis determines the best way to deliver the training.
Identify pain points and determine objectives
Designing your survey is much easier when you start with clear objectives, regardless of when the survey is distributed—before, during, or after the training. So, you’ll need to start with clear training objectives to determine whether your training has succeeded at the program’s end.
But to determine your objectives, you’ll have to understand your organization’s needs. You may have some idea of needs just from your own observation, but gathering employee data is a good idea, which might mean sending out a preliminary survey.
As you identify key pain points and formulate objectives, consider the following questions: What do you want to know? What skills are you assessing? And what gaps do you think you’ll find?
Design your survey
With your goals in mind, write your questions so they’re clear, specific, and related to your overall objectives. Consider including questions about job roles, tasks, the perceived importance of various skills, self-reported competency, and areas for improvement.
Within organizations, there are many different ways to gather data on training needs. Surveys/questionnaires are easy to implement and yield fast results. For feature-rich response collection tools, try Typeform, SurveyMonkey, or Google Form.
Can’t decide what questions to ask for the best results? Try using our free learning needs assessment template to get started.
Other methods you can use to collect data include focus groups, tests, interviews, advisory committees, or document reviews.
Once you’ve designed the survey and your stakeholders have given their seal of approval, it’s time to send it out. Education and the learners are at the core of a learning needs analysis and assessment, so it’s critical that you encourage participation and give people plenty of time to take the survey. The more feedback you have, the more meaningful your results will be.
Analyze and interpret your survey results
Once all of the surveys are complete, you can finally analyze the results. Typically, data can be broken down into two distinct categories.
- Quantitative analysis – This is an analysis of data that can be counted, like ratings and statistics. Gather the data that fits into this category and determine descriptive statistics like mean, median, mode, and range.
These figures will help you understand the big picture in your learning needs analysis and assessment survey results.
- Qualitative analysis – This is an analysis of the results you can’t easily measure in numbers. Questions that employees answer in sentences or paragraphs often fall into this category. For example, how could your leadership team improve?
After you’ve analyzed the data, you’ll have a better idea of where people might need more support and training.
Determine what can be addressed by training
At this point, you should know where performance issues lie within the company and what is not meeting expectations. Unfortunately, you can’t always fix the issues you find with training. That’s where this step comes in.
Imagine you’ve discovered the sales department is not hitting its targets. Through further interviews and discussions with employees, you’ve found that this is because the sales team is not educated on selling the new product and isn’t familiar with the best ways to cold-call prospects. This is a problem that can be solved by training.
However, imagine instead you found out the low performance was due to poor morale because lunch breaks have been shortened from an hour to 30 minutes. This isn’t something training can fix (other than maybe training management to consult with employees before making big changes).
Here’s an example on the individual level.
Imagine a support employee is consistently receiving poor customer reviews after support calls. This is a pain point, discovered in step 1, for both the employee and the support department. By speaking with the employee more, you realize the employee doesn’t understand the more complex parts of the product, so they struggle to help customers. This is an issue that can be solved by training.
On the other hand, imagine that the employee’s satisfaction scores are so low because the employee simply doesn’t care that much about helping the customers and often hangs up before the problem is resolved. This is a motivation issue that can’t be easily solved with training.
Remember, the goal of this step is to find out what problems can be addressed by training and what problems need non-training solutions. If in your learning needs assessment or analysis, you find problems training won’t resolve, still report it to leadership in your organization. There may be other initiatives that can resolve the issues you’ve discovered.
Evaluate, recommend, and set goals
The last step is where you recommend training plans that will address the discovered pain points. The goal is to bridge learning gaps and help people build skills, abilities, and knowledge.
When recommending training, you’ll need to keep in mind the costs and stakeholders needed for your program. What kind of budget does the company have set aside for employee training? What would be the best type of training? Who needs to be involved? What are the timelines for delivery? There are a few considerations for each of these questions.
Before you can choose a training program you’ll need an idea of the budget available. Talk to stakeholders such as management and HR departments to define a budget. You’ll likely need to convince stakeholders that training is warranted. Calculating the return on training investment can help justify expenses.
Keep in mind It may not always be easy to track employee training and calculate what the benefits will be. In some cases, you may need to compare performance before and after training to calculate the return on investment (ROI) after the training is complete (in which case, surveys before and after training will be helpful). Or work with department stakeholders to help calculate the expected return on investment.
How urgent is the training needed? For example, if part of your customer support team needs to serve customers from Mexico this week, it would be pretty urgent to get Spanish language training set up.
On the other hand, if your tech company isn’t set to develop new products for another two years, training developers in a new language might not be at the top of your to-do list.
Use basic project management techniques to create a training schedule, working backward from when the training needs to be completed. At Thinkific, we love tools like Asana to keep track of tasks and get things done on time. Trello, Hive, and Basecamp are also user-friendly options.
You will need to work with stakeholders to set goals for what successful training means—we alluded to this at the beginning of step 3. Keeping stakeholders involved throughout the process can help them see the value in the training you propose.
If we refer back to some of our previous examples, success for sales could mean a certain percentage of cold calls turning into qualified leads, whereas success for our customer support employees could mean an increase of 20% in their satisfaction rating. Without goals, you’ll have no idea whether the training program has been successful or not, so be sure to set them!
There are a variety of ways to deliver knowledge to employees. You can choose the best way depending on budget, employee learning styles, and the formality of training required. Some options include video training, online courses, hiring in-person trainers, reading documentation, practice, or shadowing.
If training already exists for the topic, consider updating the training to include new information that could meet the organization’s needs.
It’s worth keeping gamification concepts in mind when evaluating different training options. Online learning lends itself particularly well to making learning fun with options for rewards, leaderboards, challenges, and more. You can also track learners’ progress and encourage positive emotions toward training by incorporating gamified learning.
Bringing an expert in for in-person training is also a great option if your organization is working from an office. If, in some areas, extensive training is not needed, you can look at shadowing or practice as training alternatives. It may be that some skills have been taught but not used very much, so employees just need a practice schedule and time to do so. Alternatively, if only a few individuals are struggling, they can be paired with high-performing employees to shadow and learn relevant skills.
After evaluating all of the different training options, you will need to recommend the training program(s) that’ll work the best to hit training goals, as well as address pain points. Be sure to keep the budget, timelines, and goals in mind when giving your final recommendation.
You’ve performed your training needs assessment, completed the training needs analysis, determined the best course of action, and you’re ready to roll out a new training program or schedule. What’s next?
Now it’s time to create and deliver the training and measure the results. Join companies like Shopify, Hootsuite, and CFI and build your custom online course for training and education on Thinkific.
Still have questions? Here are some questions people frequently ask about training needs assessments.
Why is training needs assessment important?
Training needs assessment is beneficial for organizations in many ways. Here are just a few:
- Improves efficiency
- Enhances productivity
- Improves employee satisfaction
- Improves competitive advantage
Both training needs assessment and training needs analysis work together to identify problems, gaps, or needs for education and help the organization understand how to implement a solution. By identifying problem areas, you’ll be better equipped to distribute resources and implement new training where it’s most beneficial.
What are the types of training needs analysis?
There are three types of training needs analysis.
- Organizational analysis – This focuses on the organization as a whole. The goal is to consider how the organization can better achieve its goals and fulfill its mission.
- Occupational analysis – This type of learning needs analysis narrows the focus to the job level. The goal is to understand tasks, skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to perform a job and how that job might benefit from additional training.
- Individual analysis – This focuses on individuals within an organization. The goal is to understand an individual’s knowledge, abilities, performance, and areas for improvement.
Where can I find training needs assessment templates?
Right here! We’ve put together a training needs assessment template just for you. It includes tons of questions and survey material you can include in your assessment before, during, and after you implement training.
How often should a training needs assessment be conducted?
A training needs assessment should be conducted regularly or after significant changes are made within an organization. How regularly they occur can vary, depending on the nature of your industry, changing expectations and responsibilities of a role, and your organization’s goals.
At a minimum, you should conduct a training needs assessment and analysis once a year to avoid letting inefficiency and gaps in knowledge go unnoticed.
Who should be involved in the training needs assessment process?
As we discussed earlier, HR professionals often conduct training needs assessments. However, you may include any number of stakeholders in the process, including managers, employees, and subject matter experts.
This post was originally published in 2022, it has since been updated in June 2023.