Training Needs Assessment

Training needs assessment is intended to define the goals and objectives of an organization's training program. First of all, it is important to recognize the capabilities of the current workforce in order to identify the areas which might need changes. It is nearly impossible to make any changes or to measure training success if the organization does not know whether their workforce can support the changes, or whether they even need further training. To gain this information, one should start with analyzing training needs. Training needs assessment helps organizations find out what the gaps are in their employees' skills and abilities, what kinds of trainings are needed and which employees should attend those trainings.

According to Goldstein and Ford (2002), training needs assessment should focus on three levels: the organization, the job, and the person. These three levels in turn consist of five components: organizational support, organizational analysis, job requirement analysis, task and KSAO analysis, and person analysis. Each will be considered below.

Organizational Support

First of all, support and trust from all parties involved must be gained before a training program can be successfully carried out, as any intervention is going to interrupt daily routines and patterns of work behavior. A carefully planned training needs assessment attempts to make the interruption minimal.

Establishing a relationship with top-level management is an important first step. Top management must agree on why the needs assessment or the training is necessary. Cooperation must be gained from the top management, and the expectation of the top management must be controlled carefully. Issues that should be resolved include the time span of the training, effort needed from all parties, costs of the training, types of outcomes, and the confidentiality of the data of every individual in the organization.

The next step is to establish a relationship with members of the organization who will be involved in this needs assessment or the training itself. Apart from gaining support from top management, it is also important to have the support of first-level managers as well as other job incumbents. One way to do this is to form a liaison team. The team can help to function as the communication channel between the trainer and the members of the organization. They can also help the trainer better understand the organization, the culture and the people characteristics that are unique to the organization. Since the job of this liaison team is so important, members of this team must be chosen carefully. The team must be representative of different parties in an organization, each team member should be the recognized leader of his /her own unit, and each of them must be willing to help in bringing in organizational changes.

Organizational Analysis

It is often a problem for trainees to transfer the knowledge learned in a training program to the real job environment. This requires them to be able to learn effectively in the training, which is usually very different from the real job environment, and then apply the newly learned skills to their real work settings. Organizational analysis helps to examine organizational goals and resources, the transfer climate, and internal and external constraints.

Organizational goals must be specified when planning an effective training. To understand organizational goals, various levels of analysis should be done, including at the individual worker level, the work group level, and the organization level. Even when the goals of a unit or a department are clarified, the individuals will not be motivated to learn if they think their individual goals are different from the departmental goals and the training does not help them to achieve their individual goals. Thus, it is essential to specify and align the goals at different levels. Next is to determine what human and physical resources are available. An organization must make sure it has enough resources before planning a training program.

The transfer climate is a critical issue in determining whether the knowledge and skills gained in the training can be used on the job. An organization must examine the organizational components that may affect an employee in implementing the newly learned skills on the job. For example, when an employee is trained to deliver a structured interview, the organization or the supervisors must make sure the line managers value the information collected from a structured interview. Otherwise, the employee will start to lose motivation to use what was learned in the training when they actually interview candidates.

Finally, an organization also must pay attention to internal and external constraints. External constraints include the legal environment, comprising corporate law and fair employment practices. An organization must keep up with legal environment changes. The design and the evaluation of the program, as well as the selection of employees, must be done with extra care to ensure that the training program does not violate any rules or policies.

Job Requirement Analysis

One most critical objectives of job requirement analysis is defining the target job. Only after the target job is defined can the target skills that need to be trained be defined and the training program be developed. When analyzing a job, it is important to use different methods (e.g. interview, job observation, and group discussion) to collect information from different sources (e.g. supervisors, incumbents and upper-level managements) to ensure the information collected is accurate and reliable.

Each method used to collect job information has different advantages and short-comings. For example, the information collected by an interview depends on the interviewers' skills and biases, and an interview can be time consuming. The advantage is that there is maximal opportunity for the interviewee to represent himself and talk freely. On the other hand, if the information is collected only by observation, the disadvantages include the requirement of a highly skilled and knowledgeable observer, and the potential for the observed incumbent to change his behavior because of the observation activity. The advantages, however, are that observation produces minimal interruption of routine work flow or group activities, and it provides a highly relevant way to identify training needs. In the end, it is wise to use two or more different methods of needs analysis to offset the disadvantages of each individual method.

It is also important to decide who will be participating in the needs assessment. One goal is to try to involve as many relevant parties as possible. The rationale for this is twofold. First, if the organization members feel that they have participated in designing the training program by providing information about their jobs, they will regard the training more favorably and be more motivated to learn from the training. Second, it is always important to collect information from different perspectives to get a more complete picture of the requirements.

Task and KSAO Analysis

Task and KSAO (knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes) analysis is used to determine the required content of a training program. The first step here is to specify all tasks that are performed on the job. Collecting task information can involve the different techniques described before, such as interviewing the incumbent, or by observing the job being performed. After a list of tasks has been written down, subject matter experts (SMEs they could be job incumbents, supervisors, or anyone who knows the job well) will help to form tasks clusters by putting similar tasks together into one cluster. After the clusters are formed, the KSAOs for each cluster must be identified. These KSAOs are the targeted KSAOs that the training program should consider when developing the training content.

Examples of tasks, task clusters, and KSAOs of a customer representative at a credit card call center are below.


  • Determine what difficulties the customer is having in order to complete a service report
  • Ask the customer for relevant information in order to provide all information needed by the customer
  • Trace previous transaction records using the computer system
  • Provide the customer with relevant information so that the customer can follow up with the case in the future
  • Provide instructions to the customer concerning online services so that the customer can check his or her own record

Task clusters:

  • Interaction with the customers: the task involves understanding what problem the customer faces
  • Problem solving: the task involves finding ways to solve the problem the customer is facing


  • Ability to explain technical information to the customer in a way that he or she can understand
  • Ability to resolve customer problems
  • Ability to communicate with the customer
  • Skills in using the computer system for tracing previous records
  • Knowledge of authority limitations to waive certain service fees

Person Analysis

The last step in needs assessment focuses on whether the individual employee needs training and exactly what kind of training is required. An organization analysis is done to understand where the training fits into the organization environment. Task and KSAO analyses are done to find out what tasks are being performed on the job and what KSAOs are needed. Person analysis is done to assess how well the employees are performing and if they have the KSAOs that are required by the job. If not, the employees may need to attend training.

In order to perform person analysis, criteria for measuring job performance must first be developed. In the above call center example, criteria could be customer satisfaction or the number of complaints per month. These criteria can be used not only to assess the current performance before training to determine training content, but can also be used to assess performance after training, on the job in the future.