First find the need

As part of his continuing series on the changing role of the trainer, Martyn Sloman, looks at how the training need is identified

How are training needs identified in your organisations?’ is a disarmingly simple question. It sounds like the sort of essay topic that would be set halfway through a college course. Traditionally, the starting point in any answer would be to list a whole variety of techniques: interviews, focus groups and repertory grids.

But is this how it really happens? Needs identification probably never worked in this way, except in manual operations, where performance could be closely defined.

Let me offer some thoughts on how needs are identified in the modern organisation. The first is straightforward. We are encouraging the individual learner in our organisations to take more responsibility for their learning – in some cases, and to some extent, it is down to them. The second is generally accepted, but we do not always admit it: many training needs are obvious and emerge as a clear consequence of the nature of the business – our job is to meet them as efficiently and, importantly, as quickly as possible. The third is that all staff, but particularly those who operate at first line manager and above, need to acquire and maintain a repertoire of basic skills.

The job of training and learning professionals is to deliver interventions in their organisation so that these categories of needs are met effectively. This requires good management of resources – time and money – and a good feel for the way the organisation works. We need to understand the culture in which we operate. Many different players are responsible for driving and delivering people development. It is our credibility and our relationship with these players – particularly senior management – that determine our success. These are far more important than a detailed knowledge and development of techniques. No-one was ever sacked because they didn’t undertake a repertory grid.

However, because the underlying need is evident, it does not necessarily mean that the training solution is obvious. An example from one of the new case studies on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) website, and covered in the May edition of Training Magazine, illustrates this point well. The BBC has just produced a winning e-learning package on ‘editorial policy’ – the procedures that must be applied by 16,000 production staff in the corporation. The need was evident but the design took account of learner aspirations (‘where they want to be, not where they are’), so the scenarios in the module described the problems that the learner would encounter at the next level up the promotion ladder.

Martyn Sloman
CIPD adviser, learning, training and development

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