Learning needs are those skills and qualifications which 1)can be used in the future or present situation (context, company level) 2)are relevant in the individual’s situation (relevance, individual level) 3)the individual doesn’t have yet (competence) 4)can be developed using training or learning activities 5)the individual is willing to learn (motivation) 6)in order to learn the individual and the organisation are willing to invest money and time

What are the learning needs?

The traditional definition of training needs refer to an observable gap between the individuals’ or groups’ present knowledge or competence and the standards identified as necessary to do the job effectively.

Even though the definition of learning needs is simple, the actual analysis is not. There are several related problems:

– How is the present level of knowledge and competence analysed, and by whom?
– How are the standards of better job performance identified and defined, and by whom?
– What are the concrete skills, competencies, knowledge and attitudes needed to bridge the gap?

A systematic and concrete way to define and analyse learning needs have been developed by Eduard Scissons. The model which is used in the LE2000- training planner is based on the basic ideas provided by Scissons, and therefore a short introduction is needed.

The model proposed by Scissons is based on three independent need components:

  • Relevance

skills which are relevant in the present or future situation

  • Competence

individual’s ability to handle them

  • Motivation

motivation to learn more about it


‘True’ needs
 can be defined when all the components are taken into consideration (relevance of the task – individual’s current ability to handle it + individual’s motivation to learn more about it = derived need). Motivation to learn is usually taken as granted in work situations, but managers should be aware that in some situations it is necessary to prioritise needs and then motivation plays an important role – as well as the company’s own priority investment areas.

To summarise:

Learning needs are those skills and qualifications which

  • 1)can be used in the future or present situation (context, company level)
  • 2)are relevant in the individual’s situation (relevance, individual level)
  • 3)the individual doesn’t have yet (competence)
  • 4)can be developed using training or learning activities
  • 5)the individual is willing to learn (motivation)
  • 6)in order to learn the individual and the organisation are willing to invest money and time

How learning needs can be defined?

Needs analysis refers to the systematic process of identifying the standards of skills, knowledge and attitudes required in a job and auditing existing levels to establish where and in what respect these need improvement.

It is often suggested that needs analysis for staff development should be undertaken at three levels: that of the organisation, the job, and the individual. An effective strategy starts at level 1 (organisational need) and proceeds to level 2 and 3. The focus of analysis and the sources of data are shown in the table.

Level of analysis Focus of analysis Sources of data
Level 1:
Organisational needs
  • Whole organisations’ objectives
  • Pool and pattern of skills and expertise available in staff
  • Indices of effectiveness
  • Organisational climate
  • Staffing plan and projections
  • Audit of skills and knowledge of staff; identification of any shortages in future plans for new systems of developments
  • Efficiency indicators, organisational output and results
  • Organisational climate surveys
  • Monitoring data from quality systems
  • Requests from departments and group managers and staff
  • Data and feedback from users or clients such as satisfaction surveys, analysis of complaints, learner performance and problems
Staffing plan and projections
Audit of skills and knowledge of staff; identification of any shortages in future plans for new systems of developments
Efficiency indicators, organisational output and results
Organisational climate surveys
Monitoring data from quality systems
Requests from departments and group managers and staff
Data and feedback from users or clients such as satisfaction surveys, analysis of complaints, learner performance and problems
Level 2:
Job needs
  • Particular job or group of jobs
  • Tasks, skills and standards needed
  • Knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to achieve standards and output
  • Job descriptions and specifications
  • Objectives, standards and targets set and priorities identified
  • Work sampling or job observation
  • Asking the job holder or head of a unit about the work or job
  • Data and feedback from users (as per Level 1)
Job descriptions and specifications
Objectives, standards and targets set and priorities identified
Work sampling or job observation
Asking the job holder or head of a unit about the work or job
Data and feedback from users (as per Level 1)
Level 3:
Individual needs
  • Person analysis in terms of skills, expertise and competence
  • Standards of performance at job tasks
  • Performance appraisal and identification of development needs
  • Observation and work sampling
  • Interviews and questionnaires
  • Asking the job holder and head of unit
  • Data and feedback from users (as per level 1)
Performance appraisal and identification of development needs
Observation and work sampling
Interviews and questionnaires
Asking the job holder and head of unit
Data and feedback from users (as per level 1)

 

Basic skills, general skills and company specific skills

Needs analysis is usually related to skills analysis. Skills are single units of expertise, which can be identified as parts of successful work processes. For example, selling books over telephone require at least marketing skills, communication skills, numeracy, computer skills, etc. The individual worker’s level of expertise within a skill can be usually assessed, for example using the scale of novice – expert.

Working life require several skills. In order to analyse these skills they can be divided into three categories:

1. Basic skills

These are the skills which are usually provided by the schooling system, and usually every citizen are expected to have them already when entering the working life. These are skills like numeracy, reading skills, social skills etc.

2. General skills

Working life usually require a constantly changing set of general skills which are needed in every job. The relevance of these skills is usually related to individual worker’s job role and position within the hierarchy. Good examples of general skills are computing skills, marketing skills, learning skills, management skills etc.

3. Company specific skills

A small enterprise usually has a very specific area of expertise where it has it’s competitive edge. Running business on that specific area require specific skills from the employees. For example, a book binding company require skills on post-press processing, a specialised bakery need people who know how to make French bread and croissant. This kind of skills are usually acquired on-the-job or on specific training programmes.

Different kind of skills and qualifications

In modern working life the single skills related to actual production process are no longer the only one’s which are needed. More and more work is done in teams, and individual employees has more responsibility and freedom to organise their work. There is also a constant need to learn and update skills and qualifications.

Therefore what employees nowadays need is a set of different kind of qualifications. These different types of skills can be classified as follows:

1. Productive and technical qualifications (doing)

Professional skills, knowledge and competencies necessary in actual work practices.

2. Motivational (willing)

Motivation to work, aspiration, loyalty.

3. Adaptive (adapting)

Adaptation in the requirements of discipline, working hours etc; agreement to follow the rules.

4. Sociocultural (working with others)

Ability to combine one’s own skills or the skills of different people, and to use them as a source of learning; communication and working in teams – social competence.

5. Innovative (learning)

Role breaking, abstract thinking, systems thinking; ability to analyse, transform and develop one’s own work; continuing learning skills and development of own competence.

Especially the sociocultural and innovative qualifications provide a tool to develop modern ways of working in team organisations.

Common pitfalls in learning needs analysis

There are some common mistakes often made in learning needs analysis. The following list try to summarise some of them.

Mistaking wants as needs

A common mistake is to ask the employees what kind of training they want. This may produce good results, especially if the employees are well aware of their learning needs, but usually it produce a list of courses which are not needs based. A good needs analysis require some analysis and discussions, where people’s interests play only one role.
Analysing course provision instead of learning needs

The above mentioned problem is based on the fact that when people are asked what they need, they usually think in terms of available courses. Therefore, make sure that your learning needs analysis is based on work processes and current skill levels, not on local course provision.
Running sloppy analysis

The more effort and time you put into the needs analysis the more accurate results you will get. Simple brain storming session or a questionnaire will not usually provide a coherent picture about reality.
Sticking to common beliefs

Needs surveys conducted on business sector usually provide the same needs priority lists with language and computer training on the top. This may of course indicate that these are the true needs, but also it indicates that these are the ‘easy way out’ when needs questionnaires arrive on desks. A proper analysis go deeper, analysing what kind of computing skills are actually needed, and who in reality needs to speak French within the company.
Analysing training needs instead of learning needs

Training and learning may have something in common, but remember that learning can take and take place often outside organised training settings. Not always is it necessary to run a training programme if a learning need is detected. Therefore, thinking of development and learning needs through the ‘eye classes’ of training and education can be dangerous.
Missing the additional skills

If managers and employees are asked what are the learning needs, they usually stick to productive and technical qualifications. The additional skills which enable us to work with others and develop the work processes are almost always left out from the results, even though these are generally considered by experts as the key skills for successful business in modern economy.
Living from hand to mouth

It is understandable that a small business have to life and work within a very narrow time scale, prioritising those needs which are acute. However, a bit longer time perspective (6 months – 2 years) in needs analysis may give some freedom of movement, competitive advantages and a more motivated personnel.
Mistaking training as The Tool

Business development and personnel development are processes, where training and learning play only a single role. Remember that needs are sometimes better met by changing work processes, distribution of work, or using new tools, for example.

 

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