For learning and development programs to be effective, offerings should be tailored to address competencies that key positions require to function at optimal levels. Before that type of targeted learning can be developed, many organizations find it helpful to engage in a needs analysis to help pinpoint exactly what those critical competencies entail and to get clues on how the learning will be received.
An organization’s culture also impacts how learning programs will be received. This, said Tim Hunnybun, service leader for IT training at The University of Leeds, is another reason to commission a full training-needs survey for all staff. “People in the university sector are different, and culturally it’s a different organization. They don’t really like IT training, but that’s because it’s not been positioned properly, or I want to see if that’s the case. I want to see how I can look at how an administrator in the school of chemistry needs to use Excel to their advantage. It’s not going to be the same sort of things if you go through a standard advanced MS Excel course. I want to try to prove to the management that this is a drive to go for, and I think the first stage of doing that is to look at the training needs survey to actually have some evidence to back that up with.”
Hunnybun said that the needs survey will help the university’s efforts to tailor courses to strategically match job needs. “We’re working to tap into that sort of response, not just ‘what do you want and why do you want it,’ but look at where the gaps are between what you need to do for your job and the sort of skills that you perceive you need. I’m trying to take it out of application stuff because I want to take away from them saying ‘I need this training.’ I want them to break it down and say ‘I need that skill.’ It’s skill-based rather than specific-application training. It’s difficult.”
Initiating this enterprise-wide needs assessment is a ground-up approach to learning development, but Hunnybun said that it helps to reposition learning as a viable department in the organization and to determine exactly what the university and its staff want. “The training department has always been a vibrant piece of the university,” Hunnybun explained. “It had a purpose, but in the past four or five years, it has lost its way a little bit. It does bits and pieces of training, but I want to map so that the university has a strategy of where it wants to go. I want to plug in my IT training strategy alongside that. We are having to start from the bottom up.”
The needs survey will help to chart the university’s learning course, not only with regard to the kind of curriculum developed and offered, it will determine how learning is delivered and what vendor partnerships might be required. “One of the things that I’m looking to do, which is quite key, is to look at training all of our project managers and our business owners to work better together,” Hunnybun said. “We’re bringing in the business, the finance department, HR department who tasks a lot of the IT development. We’re trying to ramp up their skills by bringing them in and saying, ‘This is how to write business cases. This is how to read project plans,’ and so on, with the view of making projects work better, and that’s where we’re making a start.
“Depending on how scandalous the results are, I’d like to publish the results of the survey as we go. I’d like to benchmark that and look at quantifying that some how in October ’06, then maybe look at it in ’07 to see what differences we can make,” Hunnybun explained. “There’s a lot of communication that we need to do from the training perspective to let people know what’s going on and what’s possible, and then in six to nine months time, find out if it’s actually made a difference.”
–Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org