Needs Analysis: How to determine training needs

Chapter Highlights
  1. Types of Needs Analyses
  2. Knowledge, Skills, Abilities
  3. Techniques
  4. Checklist for evaluating an assessment
Training Needs Analysis: The process of identifying training needs in an organization for the purpose of improving employee job performance.


Today's work environment requires employees to be skilled in performing complex tasks in an efficient, cost-effective, and safe manner. Training (a performance improvement tool) is needed when employees are not performing up to a certain standard or at an expected level of performance. The difference between actual the actual level of job performance and the expected level of job performance indicates a need for training. The identification of training needs is the first step in a uniform method of instructional design.

A successful training needs analysis will identify those who need training and what kind of training is needed. It is counter-productive to offer training to individuals who do not need it or to offer the wrong kind of training. A Training Needs Analysis helps to put the training resources to good use.

Types of Needs Analyses

Many needs assessments are available for use in different employment contexts. Sources that can help you determine which needs analysis is appropriate for your situation are described below.
Principle of Assessment: Use assessment instruments for which understandable and comprehensive documentation is available.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Today's workplace often requires employees to be independent thinkers responsible for making good decisions based on limited information. This kind of work may require training if the employee does not have these skills. Below is a list of various competencies that employees may be required to posess in order to perform their jobs well.

Are any of these KSA's required before the employee is hired? Are the required KSA's included in any job postings or advertisements? Do they need to be?


Several basic Needs Assessment techniques include:

Conducting an Organizational Analyses

Determine what resources are available for training. What are the mission and goals of the organization in regards to employee development? What support will te senior management and managers give toward training? Is the organization supportive and on-board with this process? Are there adequate resources (financial and personnel)?

Conducting a Work / Task Analysis

Interview subject matter experts (SME's) and high performing employees. Interview the supervisors and managers in charge. Review job descriptions and occupational information. Develop an understanding of what employees need to know in order to perform their jobs.

Important questions to ask when conducting a Task Analysis:

  1. What tasks are performed?
  2. How frequently are they performed?
  3. How important is each task?
  4. What knowledge is needed to perform the task?
  5. How difficult is each task?
  6. What kinds of training are available?
Observe the employee performing the job. Document the tasks being performed. When documenting the tasks, make sure each task starts with an action verb. How does this task analysis compare to existing job descriptions? Did the task analysis miss any important parts of the job description? Were there tasks performed that were omitted from the job description?

Organize the identified tasks. Develop a sequence of tasks. Or list the tasks by importance.

Are there differences between high and low performing employees on specific work tasks? Are there differences between Experts and Novices? Would providing training on those tasks improve employee job performance?

Most employees are required to make decisions based on information. How is information gathered by the employee? What does the employee do with the information? Can this process be trained? Or, can training improve this process?

Cognitive Task Analysis

Develop a model of the task. Show where the decision points are located and what information is needed to make decisions and actions are taken based on that information. This model should be a schematic or graphic representation of the task. This model is developed by observing and interviewing the employees. The objective is to develop a model that can be used to guide the development of training programs and curriculum.

Since the training is based on specific job tasks, employees may feel more comfortable taking the effort to participate in training.

Gather information about how the task is performed so that this can be used to form a model of the task. Review job titles and descriptions to get an idea of the tasks performed. Observe the employee performing the job. Review existing training related to the job. Make sure you observe both experts and novices for comparison.

Critical Incident Analysis

Critical Incident Interview Guide.

Conducting a Performance Analysis

This technique is used to identify which employees need the training. Review performance appraisals. Interview managers and supervisors. Look for performance measures such as benchmarks and goals.

Sources of performance data:

  1. Performance Appraisals
  2. Quotas met (un-met)
  3. Performance Measures
  4. Turnover
  5. Shrinkage
  6. Leakage
  7. Spoilage
  8. Losses
  9. Accidents
  10. Safety Incidents
  11. Grievances
  12. Absenteeism
  13. Units per Day
  14. Units per Week
  15. Returns
  16. Customer Complaints
Are there differences between high and low performing employees on specific competencies? Would providing training on those competencies improve employee job performance?

Checklist for Training Needs Analysis

It is helpful to have an organized method for choosing the right assessment for your needs. A checklist can help you in this process. Your checklist should summarize the kinds of information discussed above. For example, is the assessment valid for your intended purpose? Is it reliable and fair? Is it cost-effective? Is the instrument likely to be viewed as fair and valid by the participants? Also consider the ease or difficulty of administration, scoring, and interpretation given available resources. Click here for a sample checklist that you may find useful. Completing a checklist for each test you are considering will assist you in comparing them more easily.