How to Identify Training Needs

Philip Cleave
May 11, 2021
Undertaking a training needs analysis

When you consider that employees are typically the biggest contributors to a company’s overall profits and worth, it’s not hard to appreciate why the role of training to help maintain staff performance and productivity is seen as so vital to an organization.

However, while many firms will recognize this, it’s important not to just dive straight in with your training. Instead, you need to be able to identify the right training, if you’re going to be able to meet both your employees and organization’s performance and operational needs, which is where training needs analysis comes in.

What is a training needs analysis?

Essentially, training needs analysis is all about gaining a top-level view of your organization and its overall goals. It also considers the knowledge, skills and behaviors your employees need, before thinking about your training requirements and how you will develop them.

Conducting training needs analysis before you start putting together your training program is a crucial step, as it will help to ensure you develop more effective training materials, as well making the best use of your time.

The 3 levels of training needs analysis

While there are a number of different approaches to conducting training needs analysis, one of the most commonly followed is McGhee and Thayer’s Three Level Analysis.  According to this model, if you’re to gain the level of detail you need; your training needs analysis must be conducted at three different levels within your organization.


At this level training needs analysis looks to examine organizational-wide goals and problems, to help highlight where training is most needed.

At the organizational level, there could be a mix of internal or external issues going on, which could influence where this training is required. For example, the introduction of a new software system may well have training implications for developers that need to work with it. Or alternatively changes to products or policies, or even changes to external legislative requirements, may impact specific departments, requiring training to bring them up to speed with these changes and ensure they are able to deliver your service in adherence to these new rules.


At the operational, or task/job level as it’s otherwise known, training needs analysis is ideal in helping to determine what kind of training needs to be given to employees to achieve a specified level of proficiency. This analysis can be used to help identify the knowledge and skills required to perform specific jobs in the workplace.

There are a number of data sources that can be used in order to carry our training needs analysis at this level including material such as job descriptions and job specifications, to work performance standards and analysis of operational problems.

Task analysis assesses the knowledge and skills required for specific job tasks and correlates these requirements to the workforce’s actual knowledge and skills. From this the training needs can be identified from the gaps that are revealed in the analysis.

When employed at the operational level, training needs analysis can help to answer some of the following questions:

  • How is a job performed?
  • What are the expected performance standards for the job?
  • How should the work/task be done in order to fulfill performance standards?
  • What are the knowledge, skills and abilities required to complete the job successfully?


At the individual or personal level, training needs analysis can help you to check how each employee is performing in his or her job role, with the difference between expected performance and actual performance helping you to arrive at the level of training that is required.

You may already be asking yourself questions such as: ‘why would you need training needs analysis at the individual level? After all, given that they are the ones daily executing their tasks, then surely, they would know where they need to improve?

However, this doesn’t always happen. In fact, according to the Dunning-Kruger effect, most incompetent people do not realize they are incompetent. On the contrary, people who are not particularly good at their jobs are extremely confident of their abilities, even more than people who do their jobs well. In such a scenario a training needs analysis at the individual level becomes an absolutely necessity.

Similar to the operational level, at the individual level, there are data sources that can be collected in order to carry our training needs analysis including material such as work samples and data from performance appraisals to interviews and questionnaires and assessment of employee skills, abilities and knowledge.

By giving you a more complete picture of employee performance and whether their performance meets expected standards, training needs analysis can help you answer some of the following questions:

  • What is the desired performance?
  • Does the employee have the necessary skills and knowledge?
  • What is the gap between the desired and actual performance?
  • What are the obstacles to efficient performance?
  • What training must be provided to the employee to meet desired performance standards?

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Why training needs analysis is important

While there are many benefits to be gained from running wider related surveys, that can include anything from onboarding surveys to more generic employee surveys, research in more niche areas such as training needs analysis is equally valuable due to the wider benefits it can deliver to both the organization and employees alike.

Benefits to the organization

Identify knowledge gaps because they become problematic: probably one of the biggest benefits of training needs analysis is that it can help you to identify any knowledge gaps among your employees before they become major issues. This proactive approach will help you to keep on top of developing issues, rather than simply reacting when something major has already gone wrong.

Better plan your annual training: another significant benefit of training needs analysis, is that it makes it much simpler for you to plan your training for the upcoming year (or whatever block of time you work with). Once you’ve identified the skills gaps that exist within your business, and all the staff members who need additional training in certain areas, it’s much easier to pull together a training plan to cover all these skills gaps.

Identify training you may not have considered before: it can be hard work trying to devise a training schedule for a large organization, without some prior research. Even if you believe you know the type of training your team should be completing, training needs analysis can throw up a lot of things you may never have considered before. That’s why training needs analysis is so valuable, as it can give you the tools to keep your staff performing at their very best.

Keep your training focused on the right areas: while training needs analysis can provide you with ideas that you may not have considered, it can also highlight areas that your team doesn’t need any further training on currently, so you can solely focus on those areas of greatest need. This is crucial, because if you ran training in areas where you had no apparent knowledge gaps, you could simply risk wasting your time and money.

Benefits to the individual

Increased enthusiasm and morale: while there are many benefits for the employer, carrying out training needs analysis can be hugely beneficial for your staff too. Just involving them in the process and asking them for them for their opinions can be extremely empowering and engaging for them and can help improve morale throughout your organization.

An increased sense of purpose: it can be very easy to get into a rut, especially if you’ve spent many years working for the same company. Subsequently, it can be very powerful and motivating when your employer gets you involved in working out your future training needs, leading to a sense of renewed purpose and focus in your job.

Get the training you need and are most interested in: most of us will have had past experiences of participating in companywide training, then coming away from the session, unsure about how we will use and benefit from what we’ve just learnt. In contrast, training needs analysis ensures only the right people are assigned to the right training sessions, benefitting both the individual and company alike.

How to conduct a training needs analysis

When it comes to conducting your training needs analysis, the best place to start is to examine your overall business objectives.

Your training activities should have a direct impact on the key performance indicators (KPIs) you use to measure your company’s success. Therefore, you need to think about what key business functions are helping you achieve your objectives, as well any ways where a lack of knowledge or skills in certain areas could be hindering them.

Next, you need to make a list of your business objectives (or team objectives if you’re looking to assess training needs for a particular area of your business). List the skills required to reach and also improve on those objectives and assess the knowledge and skill levels that your staff already possess. If you see any clear gaps, consider how training could help address them.

Next, you need to get your staff involved, by asking them what they believe their own training requirements are, as ultimately, they should have a solid grounding of their role and skill sets and what they might benefit from to further improve their performance.

Having covered these broader considerations, it’s time to assess potentially how and where you will implement training and development opportunities. Depending on the size of your organization and the variety of skills you require, there are a number of different ways to approach a training needs assessment.

Outline of methods including training needs surveys

You may want to consider using some of the following methods of assessment:

Issuing a company-wide email request for suggestions: this can be particularly valuable if you’re a smaller business conducting a training needs assessment where your roles are extremely varied. This could be as simple as messaging staff about how they would like to enhance their skills. From there, you could develop training for multiple staff and suggest individual training opportunities.

Conduct training needs feedback session with your employees: for a more focused approach to assessing training needs, you might find that holding conversational feedback sessions with your staff, team, or a core focus group, offers you a better way of identifying specific training requirements.

Create a training needs survey: if you want a more structured way of reaching out to your staff, which can be especially beneficial for larger organizations, you may prefer to send them a training needs survey. Not only can this enable you to get a better feel for the sorts of training and support they feel that they need, but also the level of interest among your employees for any training you may currently have planned.

Once you have taken all these steps you should be much better informed about where you need to go with your training and development program.

It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to training needs analysis and ensuring the right people get the right training and your training programs are as effective and efficient as you can make them, there are other employee and HR areas you might like to focus on.

From employee onboarding, staff self-assessment and exit, to employee engagement, job satisfaction and staff motivation, by running surveys in more areas and taking a more holistic approach to employee and HR issues, you’ll be better able to create the staff mindset and culture you want and be more successful as a result. For more help with this why not take a look at our hr survey templates.

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