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Training Needs Analysis Toolkit reviewed


Title: The Training Needs Analysis Toolkit
Publisher: PDC-online (tel: 01423 546958)
Date: not known
Price: £75.00
Format: Hyperlinked MS word document

This Microsoft Word set of pro-forma documents and guidelines promises a targeted, planned and managed means of identifying and prioritising training needs within a section, department or entire organisation.

It starts by offering a fairly sound model, one which will be recognised by anyone involved in Investors in People or the National Training Awards... first think about your business objectives. PDC point out that this can be for any level of business entity, from an individual post to project team, section or the whole business. but suggest the higher the better. The Toolkit provides a Master Plan pro-forma to define both the primary and secondary business objectives from which all else will flow. As a useful aid, PDC have provided a running example of using the Toolkit for a project team at the Chilled Out ice cream company.

From this start, the next tasks are to identify the team experience and skills necessary to deliver against the objectives. Here PDC offer a definition of the difference between experience (the result of having done something before) and skills (the ability to do something). In my opinion, the definitions are somewhat spurious and even the given example (previous involvement working with advertising agencies and some project management experience) can be broken down into more meaningful and specific skills... hence the imminent Marketing and MCI Manage Projects suites of occupational standards.

The problem continues when the skills themselves are considered. The Toolkit offers three categories. Firstly People and Business Skills, ranging from attention to detail and adaptability to team working and time management, they cover 18 of the personal competencies individuals in the team may require. Next come Computer Skills, defined in the case study in terms of knowledge of specific computer programmes, and Technical Skills, the professional and vocational skills required to do the work. It is here that the Chilled Out example seems to lose touch with reality. Instead of delving into the vast array of skill descriptors (most notably national occupational standards) we are offered the single entry Marketing degree (or equivalent)... not even a "skill" within the terms of PDC's own definition.

Nevertheless, the pro-forma could be usefully used as the Word format allows you to enter any skill you consider relevant. However, what you do once you fill all of the fifteen lines available for Technical Skills remains an issue. In addition, the top-down approach assumes that the initial exercise identifies all of the competencies (no deeper analysis or staff consultation is suggested).

Assuming that the first section is completed, the next stage is to cascade the findings into the individual members of the team. This is done using a second Short Form pro-forma which is used to identify individuals' contribution to the business objectives and the experience and skills required to achieve them. In effect we are asked to apportion the skill-set identified in the Master Plan amongst the team and then use PDC's weighting system to define the level of skill required for each post (confusingly, different weighting scales are used for each skill-set). In addition, a three point scale (critical, important and beneficial) is used to identify the relative importance of each skill.

From now on we are on familiar territory with identified and weighted individual skill needs followed by an assessment of current skill levels. Whilst the guidelines do give some suggestions about how assessment may be done, they do tend towards the subjective and fail to even mention formal skills assessment such as NVQ units or the Microsoft Accreditation scheme. Nevertheless, the average trainer will feel comfortable in identifying the skills-gaps and resultant training needs.

But it is here that the Master Plan comes into its own again. By totting up each staff members' perceived need and relative importance for each skill we can arrive at an overall mathematical analysis for the team. For example, a skill may be initially recognised (say plan and prepare projects) as being relevant to the team at a skill level of 3. Down-line analysis may identify that two individuals need to be able to offer this skill, one at PDC's level 3, the other at level 2. Thus, the highest skill requirement is 3 and the total skill requirement is 5. This is represented in the Master Plan as 3/5. Analysis of current skill levels may indicate that the two staff members are currently competent at level 2 and 1 respectively. Thus, the current highest and cumulative scores are entered as 2/3. The weighting of importance, in this case the highest, completes the equation and identifies this as a high priority area for training as we have scored 2/3 against a target of 3/5 in a critical area.

The final stages are to consolidate all of the skill gaps onto a series of prioritisation tables together with an indication of the likely means of meeting the need (the guidelines give ideas of options other than courses) and then to monitor and review success. All good training practice.

Overall it is clear that the Toolkit has some merits; the theory is sound and logical and concentrates on the business needs to produce a rational and prioritised training plan. However, the Toolkit fails in the execution. Already mentioned issues centre upon the definitions of skill, the top-down approach, the confusing ranking system and the physical limitations of the pro-formas.

In addition, the Toolkit lacks true utility. Minor issues include the use of grey text areas (not very photo-copier friendly), the insertion of Xs into what are stated to be tick-boxes and an overall amateur look and feel to the presentation (although I must admit that I'm unsure whether the copy reviewed is a beta or final version).

But my other grievance lies in the need to manually add up all of those figures and scores. A truly useful Toolkit would have taken a database approach able to automatically keep tally of the scores and add them up into aggregate scores. As an IT solution it would also go a long way towards a truly integrated organisational TNA with easy aggregation and prioritisation of needs across departments, teams, disciplines, functions, grades, roles etc.

As it is, we have a Toolkit utilising a fairly sound principles and some pretty basic IT. My view would be to go for the methodology, subject to a clearer view of what skills or competencies are relevant to your organisation, but await the all-singing, all-dancing database version, able to truly take the chore out of TNA.

The Training Needs Analysis Toolkit was reviewed by Neil Wellman of NetWork Associates.


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