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When needs mustpixel.gif (807 bytes)

pixel.gif (807 bytes) Looking at needs analysis
HE NEAR UNIVERSALITY of the web browser interface, brought about by the application of Internet technology to organisational networks, brings with it opportunities that could revolutionise the way training departments interface with their customers. So far the emphasis has been placed on using the Internet and, more importantly, intranets as a way of improving accessibility to learning resources, a process facilitated by the rapid proliferation of off-the-shelf learning content. But networking technology has a lot more to offer than this - practically all aspects of the training and learning process can benefit to some degree by the judicious use of new online systems. And a long way before delivery in this process comes the identification of needs - the proper foundation of all our training efforts. So what can online technology offer the good ol' TNA?

What needs analysis is
We all know what needs analysis is, don't we? It's the process whereby we identify the gap between what the organisation requires in terms of job competencies and what the employees currently have to offer. When we know what the gap is, then we can look for learning resources that will help employees to increase their competencies and hopefully fill the gap. So, if the job of customer service representative requires a high level of competence in handling customer complaints, yet the current level of competence in that area is low, then we know we have a training need.

In fact, training needs can arise in other ways as well. Let's say you are going to be introducing a new computerised project management system, whereas right now your system is manual. The gap here is between future job requirements and current employee competencies. And needs can also arise when developing employees to take on greater responsibilities. If you're looking at a programme to help clerical workers to become supervisors, then your concern is the gap between the requirements of higher-level jobs and the current competencies of clerical workers.

So that's three types of need:

  • fulfilling current job requirements
  • fulfilling changing job requirements
  • fulfilling the needs of different, future jobs

What it is not
However, what passes for training needs analysis in some organisations bears no resemblance to this process. Too often it is the cafeteria system that operates: the training department places the courses it has to offer on the menu (including a three course meal for those really hungry for learning) and the punters pick those offerings that most tickle their appetite. And what do you do when the food's free and there's an abundance of choice - you gorge yourself. But did you really need the treacle pudding? No, but it looked irresistible.

Towards a more systematic needs analysis process
To systematise the process of training needs analysis requires the following:

  • a database of current job requirements, expressed as competencies
  • a way of defining future job requirements as well the above
  • a database of employees' capabilities, expressed as competencies (using exactly the same competency definitions as those used for jobs)
  • a way of assessing employee competencies using rating systems or tests
  • a way of comparing current or future job requirements with employee competencies to assess the level of training needs

Going beyond needs analysis for a moment, this system could be extended to help match learning needs with available resources. What would be needed would be an additional database of learning resources, indexed against the competency definitions.

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                                                     Fastrak Consulting Ltd, 1999. All rights reserved.                                Last revised 23/9/99