Correctly identifying and addressing your organization's training needs can make all the difference in developing a skilled workforce and, ultimately, company success. It’s an exercise that prepares for tomorrow by defining the most effective learning and development (L&D) strategy for today.
You may already be assessing training needs for your company, but are you getting the most out of your efforts? This article will show you how to optimize your training needs assessments and develop a strategic plan for addressing skills gaps through training and education.
What is a training needs assessment?
A training needs assessment is an exercise that takes a close look at the goals of the company and the skills required to reach them, pinpoints the skills gaps (either within an individual employee or across a department) and defines the training needed to close those gaps. Effective needs assessments reveal disparities between the skills and competencies required for a role and the ones currently possessed by employees. This process helps formulate the kind of training or education needed and allows you to plan and allocate resources accordingly.
Depending on how your training needs assessment is structured, it can also reveal information about employee learning styles to help you deliver a more effective learning experience.
The benefits of a training needs assessment
If you’re going to invest time and resources into learning and development, make sure your L&D is delivering where it matters. There should be no guesswork involved. The content and programs that you build into your strategy should be a direct reflection of the skills needs you’ve identified, rather than perceived needs. A well-run needs assessment makes that easy and will clarify which learning initiatives are redundant, irrelevant or if what you’re doing is exactly what’s needed.
When you go through the process of conducting a training needs assessment, for instance, you gain specific insights into the precise skills gaps and learning requirements within your company. It will help you answer critical questions such as:
- Are there skills gaps on an individual level? What about at a team or departmental level?
- We know that we will need specific skills to support future job openings. Are these skills already present within the workforce?
- Despite the L&D programs we offer, my workforce is still lacking a specific skill. Are these existing L&D programs inaccessible?
Training needs assessments for the new world of work
Many traditional training strategies are focused on enabling the employee to be successful in their current role. This commonly looks like sporadic, role-specific training that’s intended to boost day-to-day productivity. While this can be an effective method for helping an employee do well now, it does little to enable advancement and growth.
In the modern workplace where disruption is the norm, both employees and organizations benefit from thinking more proactively about workforce planning. This means not only focusing on helping employees be successful today but investing in their development to upskill or reskill into future positions. This kind of support enables engagement, retention and overall adaptability.
However, providing an employee with a clear path for advancement (that also parallels company needs) requires more than one-off training. That’s why many are shifting away from training needs assessments to learning needs assessments to better reflect a more holistic approach that encompasses all kinds of learning and education.
Learning can encompass a wide variety of educational methods to target both perishable and durable skills with professional certifications, boot camps, degree programs and more. So rather than focusing solely on training that prioritizes short-term upskilling, this process expands to include other types of learning that fuels long-term development of skills and competencies and career advancement.
5 components of an effective training needs assessment
In practice, switching from a training to a learning needs assessment simply broadens certain aspects of your existing process. It doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Here’s a breakdown of a few new best practices to follow:
- Use a skills taxonomy
The language of skills can be confusing. Employees and managers may use different words for the same skill or similar roles may have entirely different job descriptions. A skills taxonomy solves this by creating an agreed-upon vocabulary for defining both specific jobs and the specific skills needed to do them. With a skills taxonomy in place, you’ll have a better framework for assessing and prioritizing learning needs.
- Fold education into the picture
Don’t limit the learning paths you offer. Employees may need specific training for a current role, but you’re not only closing skills gaps, you’re filling the talent pipeline for future business needs. Let these bigger-picture strategies drive your L&D and offer broader opportunities for development, whether degree programs, professional certifications or even high school diplomas.
- Use business goals as a guiding principle for prioritization
The reality is that you likely won’t be able to address all skills needs equally. Whether you’re working on a tight budget or with limited resources (or both), you’re going to have to be able to prioritize certain roles or areas of the business that require more attention. When going through this exercise, always keep greater organizational goals in mind. Consider which roles support these greater business objectives and will deliver the most impact with the lowest lift in resources.
- Update skills assessment methods
The methods by which you assess employee skills should be evaluated regularly. This means ensuring you’re using up-to-date technology and considering accessibility so that employees are willing and able to participate.
You can always move between quantitative and qualitative assessment methods to paint a more nuanced picture and ensure you’re getting the most accurate and helpful data.
- Report and analyze the results
Keep track of all your needs assessment findings and be sure to share them with relevant stakeholders. Record-keeping allows you to track L&D progress and can serve as a starting point for assessments you perform in the future.
Build a more accessible employee learning strategy
A well-executed learning needs assessment puts skills gaps on full display and allows you to build an L&D strategy that engages and benefits employees, provides skilled workers for businesses and nurtures leadership and growth throughout the workforce. Achieving that level of ROI requires traditional L&D to expand to other kinds of learning opportunities, ones that are accessible and compelling to today’s busy workers.
Unlock additional L&D resources: Brush up on these 9 essential training metrics to make sure you’re looking at all the correct data points when evaluating training effectiveness.