Needs Assessment in Employee Training & Development (Part II)

As we stated last week, in simplest terms, a need is a gap. It is the divide from an existing state to a desired state. For example, it represents where an employee’s skill level is versus where you want that skill level to be.

When preparing for training, a validated needs assessment increases the likelihood of getting a favorable response from those who control budget dollars. If you say, “We need training,” but have no means to validate why, you may hear something like, “Come back when you have proof you need it.”

Valid data must first be collected. There are dozens of data collection methods and all of them have pros and cons. Raymond Noe stirred our thoughts on the topic in his book Employee Training and Development. Some of his observations are incorporated below.

Online Survey – Standardized electronic questionnaire that asks predetermined questions.

Pros Cons
Generally yields a high rate of return and large amounts of data Respondents may collaborate when individual responses are preferred
Does not require a trained interviewer(s) Respondents may rush through responses
Harder to validate if using a 3rd party survey tool (internal survey tool may be more reliable since employees must sign in to use)
Not all employees may have access to computer

Paper Questionnaire – Standardized hard copy questionnaire that asks predetermined questions.

Pros Cons
Generally yields a high rate of return and large amounts of data Labor intensive
Does not require a trained interviewer(s) Returns not always high
Only provides information 
directly related to questions

Face-to-Face Interview – Structured face-to-face question and answer session using predetermined questions.

Pros Cons
May reveal specific details related to development needs as well as causes of and solutions to various problems Time consuming
Provides an opportunity to clarify questions and/or responses Requires skilled interviewer
Questions can be modified Scheduling constraints
Employees may tell you what you 
want to hear

Archived Data – Data that have already been collected by an organization and are in their records or archives.

Pros Cons
Low cost Often out of date
Unobtrusive Previous compilation methods 
may not have been valid
Can be highly accurate Could be based on previous 
business strategy
Often good to moderate validity May be incomplete
Can allow for historical 
comparison/trend analysis

Focus Groups – Structured interviews with small groups of like individuals using standardized questions, and exploration of other topics that arise to better.

Pros Cons
Relatively low cost Can be time consuming which may increase costs
Rapid data collection Produces limited quantitative data
Participants define what is 
important Requires trained facilitators
Provides opportunity to explore issues in depth Groupthink may skew responses
Opportunity to clarify responses Difficult to collect sensitive information
Participants may not be forthcoming if supervisors are included in focus group

Observation – Structured observation using standardized criteria.

Pros Cons
Can check for congruence on what people say and what they actually do If participants know they are being observed, they may act differently
Feedback is immediate Time consuming
Occurs within actual workplace 
conditions. Requires trained observers

Simulation – Using actual equipment or assessment, but not in the work environment.

Pros Cons
Able to observe and analyze in a controlled environment Costly
Requires trained observers

SGR recommends utilizing a minimum of two collection methods. Comparing data sets from both methods will solidify the validity of identified gaps, positioning you to present a strong case for training to meet the need.

Happy Training!

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
President of Online Learning, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

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