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TNA: What’s the Need?


Most trainers are familiar with that heavy feeling that occurs in some poor soul undertaking a course which they feel is utterly unnecessary. The result is an uphill struggle for the trainer, fruitless for the employee and pointlessly expensive for the employer. Matt Henkes looks at the importance of a training needs analysis.

In an ideal world all training courses would be so well-sourced and watertight application and relevance that employees find themselves welded to their seats with almost trance-like levels of attentiveness.

Before this developmental utopia can be achieved, however, it will probably pay to work out exactly what manner and level of training is needed among your loyal, knowledge hungry workforce. This is where we encounter Training Needs Analysis (TNA), the process by which the information that will feed these decisions is compiled.

Victoria Winkler is a training adviser at the Chartered Institute for Training and Development (CIPD). She says that in today’s constantly shifting workplace it is important for firms to keep in touch with both the workforce skills required by their business goals, the actual skills currently possessed by their employees, and any existing gap between the two.

Companies really shouldn’t waste time and money on staff training programmes until they are clear on what their workforce development objectives should be. To do so would be like attempting to cater for a high-class dinner party, with your entire kitchen and ingredients ready and waiting, but absolutely no idea how or what you intend to cook.

When to do it:
This might be particularly relevant where a company intends to implement a new IT system, for instance, or introduce new procedure or working practice to which employees may have to adjust, says Winkler. “Really it’s about saying ‘what jobs do we have in the organisation, and what skills do we need’,” she says. “Nowadays, things have shifted away from employees being sent on formal training courses for one or two days, there’s a lot more actual coaching much more on the job learning.”

TNA can be performed on a variety of levels within an organisation, though the correct one for you will depend on many factors, including industrial sector, company size and probably most importantly, what the aim of your staff training is.

An analysis on a company wide level will constitute a hefty amount of effort. The aim of such a study is ensuring that the required skills will be available for the organisation to meet its objectives, either over the short or long term.

Information on your business, as well as on its employees, is required to make this worthwhile. Business objectives must be clear in order to come to any reliable conclusions on the required skills. Information about the technology used in your organisation, the level of IT competency required operating it and whether this is likely to change are also key points.

On the employee side, qualifications, past experience, current job role and attitude are among the many recognised factors that should be considered.

Where the nature of a particular part of your business is set to change, or a new project or area of work is taken on, a departmental analysis may help identify the staff development required to meet these new challenges. Individual appraisals may be more useful in this instance. “This technique relies very much on line managers and employees having a good dialogue in terms of where people are the most effective,” says Winkler.

“One of the most common methods for ensuring that people are up to speed in an organisation is to draw up what are called competencies,” she says. “These tend to be quite generic, like management skills, leadership skills, communication skills and so forth.”

Once an organisation has an agreed set of competencies, employees can then measure themselves against the company’s preferred standards.

“Following this, workers can assess themselves and work out where their skills and weaknesses are,” adds Winkler. “And with the help of their line managers, skills department and HR they can work out where they may need additional learning and development.” While many companies will only implement a scheme like this in the event of a major business change, some firms undertake annual surveys and appraisals as a matter of good practice.

The performance journey
Karen McKenzie-Irvine, vice president of learning and development at Metronet Rail, the company renewing two-thirds of London Underground, is an authority on TNA. She admits that she’s been working in the field “for a long time”, and in 2005 was instrumental in the implementation of a company wide appraisal system called “The Performance Journey”.

“The company wanted to have a common approach to performance appraisal,” she says. “Before that there were many different systems in place.”

McKenzie-Irvine and her team did a lot of testing on potential users of the programme before it was put into use. “We did a lot of research into what was out there and working already,” she says. “In TNA, you always look at the current practices and how they might be improved.

“We would always be seeking to look at how we can improve things,” she adds.

Metronet employees are given bi-annual appraisals by their line managers, who then liaise with HR and learning and development departments, identifying skills gaps and compiling the most effective “bespoke” method for bringing people up to speed. “We look at whether we have things we’re already running in house, whether we can tailor existing programmes or if they can learn by other means like job shadowing or secondment,” says McKenzie-Irvine. “We don’t just send them on a course.”

Appraisals are officially conducted between March and April, looking at last year’s performance and setting new objectives, then between September and October the objectives that have been set are reviewed. In addition to this official system, managers are encouraged to have regular discussions as a form of best practice.

Stay focused on your business objectives
The most common mistake made by companies around this issue is to not pay proper attention to agreed business goals. “You hear people being sent on Powerpoint training courses who never use it in their job,” says Winkler. “Its just that they’ve been identified as not being able to use Powerpoint.

“Make sure people are learning things that they’re going to use, and make sure when they get back that they’re going to have the opportunity to put into practice and implement what they’ve learned,” she adds. “Look at what your business needs. And don’t be afraid to seek professional advice.”

McKenzie-Irvine chuckles as she tells me that the secret is all to do with “keeping it real”.

“There’s a filtering process from the big picture stuff, coming right down to how we offer the training at an individual level,” she says.

“It’s not just about what other organisations are doing. What are the things that are keeping your managers awake at night in terms of skills your people don’t have? What big things are happening over the year in terms of meeting your planned business strategy that we need to make sure we’ve got the skills for?”


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