Is it necessary for organizations to conduct training needs assessments?
When learning development professionals talk to clients about the benefits and importance of “conducting a training needs assessment.” they like to use the “You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint” metaphor.
It’s a good metaphor. And yet, it often fails to convince clients that the time and money spent on the training needs analysis is worth the expenditure.
The question is, ‘Why are companies so willing to forego the training needs analysis step when it is so obvious that conducting a needs analysis is good business?’
Typically, a client chooses to skip this process for three reasons. Belief, Time and Money.
- Clients believe they already know what training their employees need. In other words, they are not convinced that a needs analysis is going to give them any additional information. “We need to half-day session on team-building.”
- They are out of time. The person hiring the training team is often experiencing pressure from their own management to get the training completed ASAP – “yesterday would be ideal.”
- The budget doesn’t support a needs analysis. With limited resources, clients believe they have to make a choice – a needs analysis or more people attending the training. Butts in seats win every time.
Experts report that of the more than $150 billion dollars spent on training in the U.S. each year, the majority of programs skip the needs assessment process. Anna Filas, Director of Instructional Design, eLearning Solutions and Compliance for TrainSmart says while it is true that the majority of organizations skip a formal learning needs analysis, many do an abbreviated version.
“In many situations, a client knows that there is a specific performance gap that needs to be addressed. Often, their initial inclination is to arm the target audience with as much information as possible. More is not necessarily better. What we encourage them to do is to assess what the target audience must learn in order to close that gap.”
This saves the client time and money. First, the design and development time can be significantly reduced when we know our target and can design right to it.
Second, the trainees only receive training that they need which in turn maximizes their training time while also preparing them to perform those new tasks, apply their new skills and change their behaviors immediately.
Filas adds, “While that is not a formal needs assessment, it does help prevent clients from creating training that dilutes the important skills and behavior points that need to be learned.”
Without the guidance that a needs analysis provides, three potential missteps occur: some companies end up overtraining training, others don’t train enough, and still others focus on the wrong skills.
This, according to the Wall Street Journal, helps create a self- fulfilling prophecy: approximately 90% of new skills learned in corporate training programs are lost after just one year.
How can a learning needs analysis reduce that alarming statistic? By its nature, a needs assessment hones in on an organization’s current situation. Rapid changes in the global market, employee demographics, and technology mean traditional training may be out-of-date. The needs assessment helps organizations address the newest and most important issues impacting performance.
Look at management and leadership training. More training dollars go to programs to enhance leadership and management than any other category of training. Yet, many organizations offer generic leadership training including modules on building trust, delegation, engagement, holding candid conversations and increasing employee engagement.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this type of training, it is not maximizing the learning opportunity. With a needs assessment, leadership training can focus on the specific aspects of development that the organization needs the most. The needs assessment helps make the training relevant and realistic for the organization’s immediate needs.
By focusing on the present situation, corporate training can provide training that “sticks” –resulting in solutions that can be directly tied to business performance, employee engagement, and increased skills.
Most important, a needs analysis provides a foundation for evaluating the effectiveness of the training program. If you don’t know where you are, how can you tell if you’ve really improved?
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Questions This Page Answers
- Why do we need to do a training needs assessment?
- The importance of conducting a needs assessment for training
- What are the benefits of a training needs analysis?
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Since 2013, Elana Centor has partnered with TrainSmart in three key areas: training, business development, and writing. As a trainer, Elana often teaches TrainSmart’s flagship workshop: Train-the-Trainer. She also heads our Minneapolis office and as a writer provides support on everything from marketing and website content. A former journalist, Elana has previously served as a business editor at BlogHer and worked as a freelance writer for Chicago Tribune and Marketplace on NPR.