The Strategic Role in Assessing Workers’ Training Need

The Strategic Role in Assessing Workers’ Training Need

The Concept of Training Need Assessment

A training need analysis is a review of learning and development needs within an organization. It considers the skills, knowledge and behaviours that people need, and how to develop them effectively (Freeman 1993). A training need assessment is considered to be the foundation of all training activities. In order to deliver appropriate and effective training which meets the needs of individuals and the organisation and represents value for money, a training need assessment is essential (Reid and Barrington 1994; Burton and Meril 1988).

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There is general agreement in the literature that, training needs analysis is the best practice first step in the systematic approach to training (Reid and Barrington 1994; Mcclelland 1993). This systematic approach to training is the predominant model found in the literature (Reid and Barrington 1994; Abdullahi 2009). It is described slightly differently, with varying stages and elements, but there are a number of core features to the approach. The systematic approach is one which involves considering the linkages between the parts of the training process (Al-Khayyat 1998).
There is an assumption that training must be planned in a cyclical manner and that this approach will lead to high quality, planned training (Rosette 1987;Miller and Osinski 2002). Stout (1995) state that, a systematic approach to identifying training needs ensures that people are offered opportunities to learn which are efficient and effective. All of the systematic approaches in the literature outline a number of steps in the process and cover similar basic elements.
According to Goldstein (1991), training needs assessment can be as simple as asking an employee what training programs they would like to undertake in order to improve themselves. Organizations need to select appropriate training needs assessment approaches and tools in order to ascertain the needs and requirements of the employees. Storey ,J (1992) noted that training needs assessment should be conducted for all employees to create a superior workforce by focusing in the areas of weakness and developing them through training. Goldstein (1991), also stated that training needs assessment is a tool utilized to identify what educational courses or activities could be provided to management and employees to improve their management skills and work productivity. Focus should be placed on needs rather than believing that it is a necessity .
Every employee’s performance can improve (Dolliver, 1993). One of the ways an employee’s performance can be improved is by the use of tool called training, but before training is initiated it is crucial that a training needs assessment be done. Contrary to many beliefs training cannot fix everything, and unfortunately training is sometimes done just for the sake of training (Gupta, 1999).
Training Needs assessments are critical, they identify the potential causes of problems, determine whether the problem can or can not be solved with training and if it can be solved with training it will be significant in determining the training objectives (Lee & Nelson, 2006). Needs assessments can fulfill a number of different roles. They are often used to identify the value that training or an education program will have on fixing a performance problem.
The following functions were identified as being performed in a needs assessment (Lee & Nelson, 2006).
•    Gathers data on perceived needs
•    Identifies knowledge, skills, and behavior discrepancies
•    Assists trainers, human resource development personnel, administrators, and instructors in developing relevant     curriculum materials
•    Gathers information that brings beneficial change to an organization or community
•    Assesses organizational needs
•    Promotes buy-in by participants
Needs assessments can produce important data, without performing a needs assessment the correct solution might not get implemented (Laff, 2006).
2.2   The purpose of training need assessment
Need identification is the starting point in any training and development activity. Need identification or assessment is not a routine function, because it should conduct carefully and in a diagnostic manner (Al-Khayyat & Elgamal, 1997). The assessment begins with a need, which can be identified in several ways but is generally described as a gap between what is currently in place and what is needed, now and in the future (Miller and Osinski 2002).
The purpose of a training needs assessment is to identify performance requirements or needs within an organization in order to help direct resources to the areas of greatest need, those that closely relate to fulfilling the organizational goals and objectives, improving productivity and providing quality products and services. Indeed, there are various reasons why needs assessment is not conducted as it is described as being a difficult process, time consuming and lack of resources in carrying out the tasks (Hill, 2004). On the other hand, Desimone, Werner and Harris (2002) argued that incorrect assumptions are usually made about needs analysis being unnecessary because the available information already specifies what an organization’s needs are.
Furthermore, it was contested that there is a lack of support for needs assessments as human resource development  professionals are unable to convince top management of its necessity (Reid and Barrington, 1994).
According to Miller and Osinski (2002) the needs assessment is the first step in the establishment of a training and development Program. It is used as the foundation for determining instructional objectives, the selection and design of instructional programs, the implementation of the programs and the evaluation of the training provided. These processes form a continuous cycle which always begins with a needs assessment.
According to  Erasmus, Schenk, Swanpoel and Van (2000), the ultimate aim of the need analysis is to establish:
(i)    What needs actually exist;
(ii)    Whether they are important;
(iii)    How the need become apparent;
(iv)    how they were defined;
(v)    How they may best be addressed and
(vi)    What the priorities are

2.3   The process of  training need assessment
In response to the increasing demand of both internal and external clients, training need assessments  have become a mainstay in organizational management in recent years. Moore and Dutton,(1978), asserted that needs assessment process has become integral part of many organizations. Private and public sector organizations are making great strides at identifying and prioritizing performance problems, intervention requests and/or resource requirement as well possible organizational contributes.
Training needs assessment is recognized as the first step in any Human Resource Development intervention (Leigh, Wakins, Platt and Kaufma 2000). However, Desimone, (2002) contested that in analysing human resource development needs, four levels of needs has to be analysed. They include assessing the needs of the organisation, individual employees’ skills, knowledge and attitudes, and their functional responsibilities as well as departments’ needs. A Needs Assessment is a systematic exploration of the way things are and the way they should be. These things are usually associated with organizational or individual performance (Stout, 1995). A needs assessment should be designed to identify and prioritize needs, while a need analysis should break and identified need into its component parts and determine solution requirement (Watkins and Kaufman, 1996).
Practical and pragmatic needs assessments provide a process for identifying and prioritizing gaps between current and desired results (Kaufman, 1998, Kaufman 1993; Watkins and Kaufman, 1996). Need Assessment is defined as an investigation, undertaken to determine the nature of performance problems in order to establish the underlying causes and the way in training can address this (Erasmus, Schenk, Swanpoel and Van (2000). Goldstein (1993) describes need assessment as the phase of the instructional process that provides the information necessary to design the entire programme.
According to Dolliver (1993), the content for a needs assessment can be gained through the use of a couple of different processes, such as; DACUM (developing a curriculum) process, interviewing, focus groups or research questionnaires and surveys. The DACUM process consists of a map or chart that identifies the competencies and tasks required to perform a job. The competencies and tasks are identified by individuals who either perform or supervise the job. Interviewing can be comprised of a couple of different methods, face to face or filling out of a questionnaire. Laff (2006) asserted that interviews can be highly structured, moderately structured or unstructured. Highly structured is face to face, moderately structured contains specific questions but is done in a conversational manner and unstructured contains no specific questions, but just a topic.
Nowack (1991) stated that focus groups allow for information to be gathered in a fast and inexpensive manner and can consist of any number of people. They are lead by a mediator and often participants are surprised by how much they have in common. Focus groups allow for people to feed off of each other and share their feelings. Research questionnaires and surveys consist of a series of questions and used for the purpose of gathering information. Questionnaires and surveys are relatively inexpensive and don’t normally require significant resources or effort to create (Lee & Nelson, 2006).
2.3.1   Level of training need assessment
Need assessments offer performance improvement initiatives as unique opportunities to approach performance improvement from a variety of assessment level: individual, organizational and/or societal level. Conventional “business wisdom” usually only defines two levels or organizational planning and decision-making: organizational and individual/ small group. Kaufman (1997) suggests that this limited frame-of-reference has kept business focused on a “conventional bottom line”. But a new paradigm of societal value-added has emerged (Popcorn, 1990; Drucker, 1973; Kaufman, 1998) and with it a societal bottom line as well as societal   level of planning and decision making.
Van-Dyk (1997) refer to three levels of training needs: Macro (need of national and even international interest), Meso (organization’s specific requirement) and Micro level (only one person’s or a small population’s need). Mathews, et al (2001) training needs assessment is dominated by senior management decision and supervisors’ opinions. The skills inventory is the most widely applied formal technique. Organizations tend to pay more attention to customers and work groups when defining training needs. In general, objective and formal methods should be adopted more widely e.g. training audits.
2.3.2   Models of Training Need assessment
Needs assessment models vary in their focus on the results they intend to  achieve (Drucker 1973). Newstrom and Lilyquist (1979) developed a contingency model to evaluate various needs assessment methods. They evaluated twelve methods on the basis of five selected criteria: Employee involvement, management involvement, time required, costs and Relevant quantifiable data. Newstrom and Lilyquist (1979) recommended that weaknesses in one method could be balanced by including other complementary methods and that trainers needed to weigh the criteria in terms of their importance to the organisation.
Lee & Nelson, (2006). offer readers an alternate model for developing a needs assessment that uses a surveying approach that is less likely to be biased by the perceptions of managers. They use the implications of this to recommend a four-step survey process :
(i)    manager determine the task related to their work
(ii)    managers identify which tasks they believe their performance could be improved upon
(iii)    managers prioritize development desires and
(iv)    superiors then validate the development desires of their managers.
This alternative to conventional surveying, though limited if used as exclusive data collection method, can be useful during development of need assessment.
Rossett (1987) perhaps one of the most widely used training requirement analysis models currently in use by business and industry, Rossett’s reactive model seeks to lessen the gap between optimal and actual individual and small-group performance.
Burton and Merrill (1988) proposed four-phase model for need assessment which is applicable for practitioner in a variety of disciplines and recognizes both internal and external clients. This model focuses on the application of needs assessment in the development of instructional materials at the level of a course. Burton and Merrill’s model uses instructional goals rather than measurable performance objectives. Caffarella (1988) used the Newstrom and Lilyquist model to evaluate eight selected methods. She described the eight methods as; Observation, survey, interview, group meeting, job analysis, tests, critical incident & written material) she had chosen as those most widely in use, selected from major sources on data collection methods (Knowles, 1980).
Murk and Wells (1988) the Systems Approach Model (SAM) functions as broad model of instructional design rather than being solely dedicated to needs assessment. This nonlinear model includes needs assessment as an important component.  Ostroff and Ford (1989) their model is one of the several models for need assessment derived from McGehee and Thayer’s (1961) text Training in Business and Industry. This text proposes that training requirements are analyzed according to three content areas: organizational, task and person. Ostroff and Ford (1989) expand this framework by including a levels dimension (consisting of organizational, sub-unit and individual) as well as an application dimension.
A needs assessment is compiled of a set of activities and procedures. There are a number of different needs assessment models that can be used to guide individuals or organizations through the process. Gupta (1999) identifies six needs assessment models:
    Human competence model
    Front-end analysis
    Organizational elements model
    Analyzing performance problems
    Training needs assessment
    Performance improvement by managing the white space
The human competency model was created by Thomas Gilbert. This model examines six principles believed to affect human performance; information, resources, incentives, knowledge, capacity, and motives (Gupta, 1999).
The Front-end analysis model was developed by Joe Harless. He based this model on the theory that training is not an end all solution, but through this analysis core problems can be revealed (Gupta, 1999). The Organizational elements model was made by Roger Kaufman. This model is made up of five elements inputs, processes, products, outputs, and outcomes (Gupta, 1999).
The Analyzing performance problems model developed by Robert Mager represents a flow chart that covers five main areas and they are used to ask systematic probing questions. The five main areas are: describe the problem, explore fast fixes, check consequences, enhance competence, and develop solutions.
The Training needs assessment model created by Allison Rosset is a purpose-based model. In this model five types of information are gathered: optimal performance or knowledge, actual or current performance or knowledge, feelings of trainees and significant others, causes of the problem from many perspectives, and solutions to the problem of many perspectives. These five types of information are used to find a gap between an optimal and actual situation (Gupta, 1999).
The Performance improvement by managing the white space model was developed by Geary Rummler, Rummler’s model is based on an examination of three levels of performance. This model is made up of five phases and uses fourteen steps to diagnose and develop a plan for implementing interventions for performance improvement.
2.4 Training Needs Analysis
According to Lee & Nelson, (2006). effective training or development depends on knowing what is required for the individual, the department and the organisation as a whole. With limited budgets and the need for cost-effective solutions, all organisations need to ensure that the resources invested in training are targeted at areas where training and development is needed and a positive return on the investment is guaranteed (Rossett 1987).
Nowack (1991) stated that effective training needs analysis is particularly vital in today’s changing workplace as new technologies and flexible working practices are becoming widespread, leading to corresponding changes in the skills and abilities needed (Carnevale, 1990),. Analysing what the training needs are is a vital prerequisite for any effective training programme or event. Simply throwing training at individuals may miss priority needs, or even cover areas that are not essential. TNA enables organisations to channel resources into the areas where they will contribute the most to employee development, enhancing morale and organizational performance. TNA is a natural function of appraisal systems and is key requirement for the award of  Investors in People.
Gupta, (1999) asserted that, the analysis of training needs is not a task for specialists alone. Managers today are often responsible for many forms of people management, including the training and development of their team, and should therefore have an understanding of training needs analysis and be able to implement it successfully. Effective TNA involves systematic planning, analysis and coordination across the organisation, to ensure that organisational priorities are taken into account, that duplication of effort is avoided and economies of scale are achieved. All potential trainees should be included in the process, rather than rely on the subjective evaluation of managers. Ideally, managers should also receive training in the process of TNA itself, to clarify what they are tryingto achieve and what their approach should be (Nowack 1991).
2.5 The strategic role of training need assessment in organization
Training need assessment has long been considered significant and valuable. Learning systems in the workplace are the first line of defense against economic and technical changes. The ability of the nation’s employers to respond expeditiously to these changes determines, in large part, the nation’s adaptability and competitiveness (Carnevale, 1990).
Training can be defined as providing employees the knowledge and skills needed to do a particular task or job, though attitude change may also be attempted (Werner & DeSimone, 2006). Employers themselves provide 69 percent of the formal training they offer and buy the other 31 percent from outside providers (Carnevale, 1990). One type of employer provided training is on-the-job training. On-the-job training is nothing new. Two out of three Americans say that everything they need to know to do their jobs was learned on the job -not through class room preparation to qualify for those jobs (Carnevale, 1990).
This training can be structured as apprenticeship programs or unstructured through coaching. Carnevale, (1990), noted that; coaching is where one person shows another person the best way that they know how to perform a job or task. Apprenticeships are a system of training a new generation of skilled practitioners through the use of on the job training. Apprenticeships date back to 1800 B.C. Formalized instruction is another type of employer provided training. Formalized training can come in the form of a classroom setting, and is designed and delivered lecture style or it can also be delivered through interactive video and computerized instruction systems.
Employer provided training is motivated by the need to improve the company’s competitive edge. All companies conduct training whether they are large or small but the amount of training and the type of training is largely impacted by what is needed to support the culture and strategic goals of the company (Carnevale, 1990).  When training coincides with an organizations goals and strategic planning one of the most important benefits that the employer is looking for is higher employee  productivity (Lee & Nelson, 2006).
Some other general benefits of employee training are:
    Increased job satisfaction and morale among employees
    Increased employee motivation
    Increased efficiencies in processes, resulting in financial gain
    Increased capacity to adopt new technologies and methods
    Increased innovation in strategies and products
    Reduced employee turnover
    Enhanced company image
Risk Management Training that is appropriate to the needs of an organization can add great value. In order to make training effective it must be linked to both the individual on the job and ultimately the employer’s bottom line (Werner & DeSimone, 2006).

2.6 Barriers to Training Need Assessment
Fairbairns (1991) suggests that many needs analysis technique fail to produce reliable information. She identifies two questions common to many needs analysis i) what skills, knowledge and/or personal attributes are important in your job and ii) in what skills, knowledge and/or personal attributes are you in “need” of training. Wright and Geroy (1992) like other articles highlighting the limitations of the training need assessment, they noted that “between 80% and 90% of the productivity improvement can be found in the work environment or cultures” and thus a “need-analysis-tied-exclusively-to training” is often ineffective. A needs assessment model utilized in their research with the Ontario Skills Programme, they additionally make suggestions for the selection of a needs assessment model.
Abdullah (2009) suggested that absence of needs assessment and analysis is due to lack of expertise and it is irrespective of the size of firms. Other inhibiting factors mentioned by the organisations sampled include high employee turnover, the absence of a clear human resource development (HRD) plan and policy and the absence of a separate unit or section to handle employees’ training and development. Manufacturing companies in Malaysia often had forsaken the medium and long term HRD needs and objectives.

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