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Ask the Expert: Training Audits


A training audit is no small task - where do you start and having collected all the data, what do you do with it? Our experts have some advice.

Question: I want to conduct a full training audit within my organisation later on this year. Does anyone have any templates I could use or any hints and tips for carrying out an audit?

Graham O'Connell responds: A training audit is a health check on the fitness of the training function to deliver its obligations to the business. It involves reviewing the strategy and policy, needs analysis and evaluation processes, learning designs and materials, delivery options used and not used, the capabilities and capacity of training staff, the resourcing and performance measures, and anything that has a material impact on the inputs to and outputs from the function. It should result in affirming what is good and spell out what should change and how. That won’t take long then!

The place to start is with agreement about who is driving this audit, why it is being done, what success would look like, who has the knowledge and skills to do it, and some terms of reference. Once you know your remit, the next stage is to work out a game plan.

Before getting into detail, make sure the strategy and policy are right – everything else should fall from this. Next, check out what good practice looks like. Don’t rely on your own views or those of colleagues, research the literature and what other organisations do. Then do a systematic review of your systems and processes to make sure they are efficient and effective, or that they exist at all (for example, do you have a quality assurance process?).

Clearly a major part of the review will be to look at what gets trained, to whom and how. This is a bit like a recipe. There are many good ways to get the right learning to the right people at the right time. The key here is to engage with deliverers, recipients and those stakeholders responsible for key business results. This is so that you can understand their circumstances, biases and preferences as well as their needs before coming up with a bespoke, holistic response that reflects the unique complexities of your organisation and its people. This is not something that can be done by a template.

Once you are clear what the training function needs to do and how, then you are ready to look at resourcing – people, equipment, facilities, software, money and time. This is where you realise that you don’t have sufficient money/facilities/people skills or whatever to deliver the new training function that is starting to emerge in your thoughts. Tough decisions need to be made on where to compromise and where to push for change. Listening, influencing, analysis and creativity are thematic skills you will need to draw upon at every stage.

If you are new to all this I can recommend ‘How to take a training audit’ by Michael Applegarth. You may need to make some allowances for the changes that have happened in the 16 years since it first came out – there is no mention of e-learning, for example – but the core principles and techniques still hold up.

Mike Morrison responds: Training audit - is an interesting, and often misunderstood, term that I seem to hear more and more in last few months. I think that many people are confused by it and what it means.

Let's look at some definitions:
As a noun audit means:

  • An examination of records or accounts to check their accuracy.

  • An adjustment or correction of accounts or records.

  • Now in practical terms the phrase "training audit" is used to mean one of two things:
    1) An audit of who has done what training and when.
    2) A Training Needs Analysis (TNA).

    Increasingly the term has been taken to mean TNA - this to me is wrong as we have a phrase for that (TNA). Is it that people just do not know how to do one so wanted to change the name? Or do they want to appear more 'hip' and leading edge?

    As a template for a 'real' audit the form could have the following headings: individual's name; course/ training undertaken; date; duration; method (course etc); evidence of completion; and so on as required

    This could then easily be put into a database to track who has what.

    As for tips in carrying out an audit, I always like to have commitment from the organisation. This means that working with senior managers ,we identify key people across the organisation to undertake the work. They are invited to a seminar/ workshop which explains what we want to achieve, how it's is going to happen and then show them a sample of an excellent 'audit'. With them adding their details as part of group exercises. Then we agree a program of work and a target completion date. This is then communicated to the organisation.

    One of the key factors for success is to tell the organisation why this is happening and what the resulting information will be used for, then we need to plan to show everyone what has happened with that information.

    For me the key to success for any project like a training audit or TNA is simple:
    1) Have a clear reason for undertaking the work - supporting a strategic goal;
    2) Communicate this need;
    3) Say how you will use the data;
    4) Use the data and manage expectations. Do not collect lots of data and not use it as this is the biggest way that HR & training departments lose confidence and credibility within their organisations.

    Adrian Snook responds: The Training Foundation offers an externally benchmarked Learning & Development Health-Check service. However, if you are looking to complete a quick internal assessment we suggest you ask yourself the following ten questions about your training standards processes and skills:

  • Have best-practice L&D Standards and quality assurance processes been defined and followed to ensure consistent, quality learner experiences?

  • Is training aligned to business objectives, with the integral involvement of trainees' line managers?

  • Are individual learning needs analysed consistently or is employee time wasted with things they don't need to know or do?

  • Is training participative, motivating and engaging and are different learning styles recognised - or is it one size fits all?

  • Is formal training well structured, with objectives that are clear and important and with defined outcomes?

  • Has appropriate learning media been selected to create the optimum blend for effective learning?

  • Are line managers supportive, reinforcing what's been learned by coaching and ensuring immediate on-the-job application - or is learning forgotten?

  • How is training evaluated, learning tracked back to the workplace and performance improvement measured?

  • Is people-development a series of disconnected, stand-alone events or is it holistic, integrating formal training with informal, on-the-job coaching and support from line managers?

  • Does everyone involved in learning and development been access to the skills development opportunities required to do all of the above to modern best practice standards.
  • Of course determining that things need to change is the easy bit. Making the necessary changes can be far more difficult!

    The experts:
    Graham O'Connell MA Chartered FCIPD FITOL FInstCPD ACIM: Graham is head of organisational learning and standards at the National School for Government. He has particular responsibility for developing and promoting best practices in learning and development. A regular feature writer for professional magazines, he has had numerous articles published on topics such as organisational learning, training strategy, coaching and facilitation. You have probably seen Graham presenting at conferences too.

    As a consultant Graham has 25 years experience in technical, management, trainer training and as an adviser to organisations on the strategic aspects of L&D. He has extensive overseas experience including working in countries as diverse as Russia and Bermuda, China and Kosovo. Graham still does some occasional tutoring on CIPD and University of Cambridge qualification programmes and runs occasional Masterclasses. He also runs a number of networks including the Strategic L&D Network (for Heads of L&D in the Civil Service), the Henley Public Sector Knowledge Management Forum and the Leadership Alliance Exchange.

    Mike Morrison is an organisation development specialist with many years experience in a wide range of sectors supporting the development of learning and development functions. His experience as an accredited Business Advisor had provided him with a unique holistic view of organisational development and how learning strategies can integrate with the wider functions within an organization. For more information visit

    Adrian Snook is Deputy CEO & Director of Learning & Development Programmes for the Training Foundation. Having set up corporate training video production business Dragonfly Communication in 1992, he moved into e-learning in 1996 and joined The Training Foundation as Director of Corporate Development in 2001. Since that date he has been the public face of the organisation, responsible for alliances, business development, marketing and major project initiatives. In the spring of 2006 Adrian was appointed as Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Director of Learning & Development Programmes. Adrian has a passion for learning in all its forms and especially for the development of learning facilitation and coaching skills in those responsible for training or developing others.


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