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Workplace learning with coaching and mentoring
Workplace learning with coaching and mentoring

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1.1 Training needs analysis (TNA)

Most commentators agree that the first step, the TNA, is the most important part of the training lifecycle. This is where the gaps between current and desired capabilities are assessed – that is, where the scale as well as the nature of the training requirement begins to become clear. A classic TNA will usually examine these needs at three levels – organisation, job-task and individual.

Organisational analysis: This is where the TNA links to corporate strategy (or equivalent for the non-corporate sector) and the HRD strategy. Here you will consider how well the organisation as a whole is equipped to deal not only with current challenges, but also with future skills needs, to the extent that these can be predicted based on developments in strategy, or, for example, the introduction of new technologies.

You may use data from your workforce planning activities to assess the impact on your organisation of a variety of issues such as employees reaching retirement age, getting promoted and therefore needing to be back-filled, or managing short- and long-term sick leave.

A key consideration at this level is to get input from leaders and other key stakeholders on the assumptions you are making about the future direction of the organisation, and the skills the organisation will therefore need to build, recruit, retain and potentially phase out.

Job-task analysis: This is where the analysis moves to individual jobs and roles to assess the gap between current and desired skills and capabilities. Examining job descriptions and specifications provides the basis of decisions about any gaps in capability levels.

There is an important link between this analysis and any business process reengineering (BPR) work that the organisation is undertaking. BPR often results in a significant demand for the development of new skills and/or the refinement of existing skills to adapt to new technologies and/or processes.

One further term you may hear in this context is ‘job family’. Job families are groups of jobs that involve the same or similar kinds of work, and which therefore require the same or similar skills, attitudes and behaviours. Clustering jobs into families can make training planning and delivery more efficient, as well as being useful for other HRD activities, such as remuneration, reward and career progression.

Individual analysis: This is where the link is made between each individual’s training needs and their overall performance management and appraisal. If an employee’s appraisal reveals problems with performance, then often the most obvious step is to recommend training to fill the gap and help the employee to meet the desired performance standard.

A competency-based approach

TNAs tend to reflect a ‘competency’ approach to learning and development. There are many different kinds of competency models, but the fundamental idea is that ‘competency’ is an umbrella term which encompasses different sorts of training needs, often categorised into the three areas: skills, attitudes and behaviours. These categories are intended to reflect the different aspects of workplace performance – that is, both what people do and how they do it. Competency approaches therefore attempt to reflect both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ abilities and aptitudes required by the organisation.

Box 1: Competence or competency?

In the past, HRD professionals drew a distinction between ‘competence’ and ‘competency’. The term ‘competence’ (plural competences) was used to describe what people need to do to perform a job, and was concerned with effect and output, rather than effort and input. ‘Competency’ (plural competencies) described what lies behind competent performance, such as critical thinking, analytical skills or interpersonal qualities. These days, however, there is growing awareness that job performance requires a mix of skills, attitudes and behaviours. The terms ‘competence’ and ‘competency’ are now used interchangeably to reflect this mix.

Tools for TNA

The main tools you can use to gather data for TNA work include the following:

  • Surveys/questionnaires: These may be specifically designed for TNA work, or they may be surveys that are being administered for other purposes (e.g. to gauge employee engagement or staff satisfaction) where the data can also be used to identify training needs.
  • Interviews: Instructional designers often decide to interview job-holders in order to build a richer picture of what a job entails than the one available in formal job descriptions. Interviewing job-holders, and potentially other relevant stakeholders, can help to elicit the hidden and implicit aspects of the job, as well as the more obvious ones.
  • Assessment centres: These are often a good way of building a picture of employees’ development needs across a range of functions and activities. If used for TNA purposes, they need to be aligned with the overall performance management strategy.
  • Observations: You might decide to collect data on what skills are deployed in a more naturalistic setting than that offered by interviews and assessment centres – that is, when people are engaged in their normal day-to-day activities.
  • Document reviews: TNA work frequently involves examining key documents, such as job descriptions, person specifications, business plans and articulations of corporate strategy and values. This is especially useful for the organisational analysis, and for predicting future needs, rather than just documenting current ones. 

Figure 2 shows how some of these different sources of data can be used to inform each of the levels of TNA work.

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Figure 2: Data sources for different levels of TNA work