The Training cycle: Assessing and defining needs

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During the month of May, TrainingZONE will be looking at the processes involved in the training cycle. Each week, we'll be publishing an article written by our editorial team, offering an introduction to each aspect of the cycle. In this first piece, we look at the first stage in the cycle - identifying training needs.

The initial stage of the training cycle is the identification of training needs - often known as Training Needs Analysis or TNA.

What can seem a daunting task, particularly within larger organisations, can be successfully managed if done in a methodical way, through systematic data collection and analysis. Although this sounds tedious - and it can certainly be time-consuming - it provides a sure-fire method of at least establishing what is required.

Conflicting aims - top down or bottom up?

There are two possible approaches to identifying training requirements - start with idenfitying the organisation's needs and work downwards, or start with identifying the individual's needs and work upwards. In practice, a combination of both is required.

Ultimately, training and development of staff needs to be closely aligned to the organisation's own objectives. This almost goes without saying, but it's also true to say that understanding what this means for each individual within an organisation is going to be very difficult without a clear definition of what the organisation's objectives will require, collectively, from those working for it.

When the time comes to identify training needs for an individual, whoever is working with the individual to define their needs must keep in mind the organisation's overall objectives and how that training contributes towards working towards those aims. Some organisations also offer individuals the opportunity to persue non work-related training funded by the organisation which is unrelated to the organisation's aims, as an additional benefit.

Defining a need

There are a number of ways to establish a training need - among the most useful are:

  • Compliance with legislation
  • Feedback from peers or managers
  • Feedback from individuals about their own perception of their needs
  • Testing against agreed internal or external standards

    A combination of these methods is most useful - often analysis of training needs is conducted at the same time as staff appraisal, which gives the opportunity to look at the individual's role and achievements towards the organisation's aims at the same time.

    Establishing priorities

    At the time of establishing needs, it's also useful to categorise training according to its importance, particularly where training budgets are likely to be restricted. One way of doing this is to define whether the training is 'essential', 'useful' or 'nice-to-have' - by these objectives allow a clear focus on what is important and what isn't.

    Data collected - what now?

    With, hopefully, a wealth of information collected on the individual training needs of staff, the question is, how to manage this information and ensure it gets successfully fed into the next stage of the cycle.

    An electronic system obviously offers the most flexibility - this can take the form of anything from a spreadsheet you create from scratch - with a reasonable understanding of the software, you can create a straightforward record-keeping system using Microsoft Excel or Access - to a top of the range Learning Management System which integrates with course finders, course materials and mechanisms to track expenditure and evaluation. The choice of system will depend on the size of organisation and funds available.

    The next stage is to identify the best way of meeting the needs identified - over to part two of our feature for more details.

    Add your own comments and experiences about this part of the training cycle at the bottom of the page, or e-mail us with your comments direct.

    Additional reading

  • For previous articles on identification of training needs, click here.

  • Read recent questions from members on the subject of defining training needs here.

  • Find training providers who can help with analysis of training needs here.

  • Find courses and seminars on how to define and analyse training needs here.

  • Find out more about Glasstap's best-selling Training Needs Analysis Toolkit, which enables you to successfully identify the training needs of the people within your organisation, here.

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