Workplace Training: Needs Assessment

Every workplace has training needs. Some of them are obvious; such as bringing new employees up to speed on systems, processes and procedures. While other training needs may surface during performance reviews or become apparent when something goes horribly wrong—for instance, an accident that highlights inadequate safety training (note: links to video with autostart).

Single Point of Contact, IHA, Flickr

In a learning organization, training and other forms of workplace education are integral to the success of every employee and to the company as a whole. Regardless of the stance a company takes on training, understanding the training needs of an organization is an important part of the human resources function and typically begins with a training needs assessment.

What is a Needs Assessment?

With respect to workplace training, a needs assessment is the process of collecting and analyzing information to determine the training requirements that would enable a target group of employees to meet or exceed the performance requirements of their roles within the organization. In this context, it is not the training itself that is important; but rather the performance it’s designed to support. A training needs assessment is the process of identifying gaps between current performance and required performance that can be closed by training.

Types of Training Needs Assessments

Training needs assessments vary in scope. A comprehensive organizational needs assessment looks at the entire company to determine training needs at all levels and across all tasks. Often this type of needs assessment is tied to a strategic change initiative or a desire to improve overall performance for competitive reasons, with no specific performance gap having been identified.

Others levels of assessment include assessment by task or function and assessment by individual. A task-based needs assessment analyzes data about a specific job or a group of jobs to determine the knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities needed to achieve optimum performance in that job or job grouping. An assessment at the individual level analyzes how well individual employees are doing on the job and whether performance gaps exist which can be addressed by training. Typically the latter two types of needs assessments are triggered by an identified performance gap.

How to Conduct a Training Needs Assessment

The needs assessment is about determining the following:

  1. What is the problem (or gap) based on your understanding of the organizations objectives and performance requirements and current employee performance.
  2. s the performance gap a skill (competence) or will (attitude) issue?
  3. How can it best be addressed (e.g. communication, coaching, new system/process, training, etc.).
  4. If training is required:
  • Who needs training?
  • What kind of training is needed?
  • How urgent is the need for training
  • Are resources available to support the training? 

Sometimes Training is Not the Answer

In conducting a needs assessment, you might discover that the performance gap is caused by something that training won’t effectively address. The following table illustrates a number of possible underlying causes for performance gaps and how each might be addressed.



  Gap in skill or knowledge

  Provide training

  Inadequate feedback

  Provide feedback and clear standards

  Lack of motivation

  Provide rewards and consequences

  Unclear expectations

  Provide and discuss standards and identify how performance will be measured

  Poor job environment

  Change the environment

  Employee lacks potential

  Change personnel

At the end of the day, if your needs assessment reveals:

  • existing knowledge and skills gaps that would be most effectively addressed by training;
  • an urgent need to close the performance gap;
  • management support for a training initiative; and
  • adequate resources for the required training;

then your next step would be designing an appropriate training program. When you do set out to design a training program to address the needs you’ve identified, remember to incorporate effective methods for training adults based on how adults learn.


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Institute of Professional Management. Professional Trainer Program. (2010)

Joan Strohauer, California Department of Education. Training Needs Assessment:
A Systematic Approach.

Janice A. Miller, SPHR and Diana M. Osinski, SPHR. Training Needs Assessment (1996/2002)

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