A training needs analysis is the rock on which any L&D strategy should be built. However, learning and development has been known to spring up in organisations in the absence of any identified need. Teresa Russell speaks with two companies whose training needs analyses initiated positive, measurable organisational change.
One enthusiastic Australian employer mandates 10 days of training per employee per year - no doubt in the interests of developing all its staff to their full potential. However some observers call this "training for training's sake", because the learning is not linked to any identified skills gaps in a current or future role.
A training needs analysis has quite a few benefits apart from identifying skills gaps. It informs budget decisions. It helps create accurate briefs for external consultants. It gives employees a say in their own development needs. It dovetails into performance management systems and helps crystallise learning & development policy direction.
"The crunch for us came 18 months ago, when our heads of business told us that people were coming out of our six-week induction program 'none the wiser'," says Kelly Morrissey, manager of instructional design in the retail sales and service division of NRMA Insurance. "When we asked them for an analysis of this statement, they could not give one. They just said it was their gut feeling."
NRMA Insurance is one of the leading personal insurers on Australia's east coast. Morrissey's division includes a call centre (680 people in four locations), branch operations (260 people in 29 locations), country service centres and franchisers (190 sites with between one and eight people each).
Retail sales and service utilises 25 L&D professionals, including six full-time instructional design consultants and six managers. Those working in the call centre and branch environment are mostly involved in induction training. "We're a bit different to most L&D teams because we sit within the business process improvement team and have full business accountability," says Morrissey.
In stark structural contrast, Daikin Australia's HR function is only three years old and the new role of L&D manager occupied by Dan Moore was created in March this year. The Australian arm of this global Japanese company manufactures and distributes air-conditioners for the domestic and commercial market.
In the last three months, Daikin has opened a manufacturing plant in Sydney, to make the products for the domestic market that it used to import from Thailand, Singapore and Japan. It currently employs 285 people who are divided fairly evenly between sales, service and manufacturing. Factory expansion will see headcount grow to around 350 in the next 12 months.
"Although my role is new, there were lots of training interventions going on previously. There was just no central coordination and no specific strategy," says Moore. "The main driver to create an L&D function was to help manage change," he adds.
Morrissey and her team at NRMA Insurance mapped the current and future job tasks, identifying the skills and competencies people needed to be proficient. Then, in consultation with the business, they defined what proficient meant. "Up 'til then, our people had operating targets and KPIs, but they couldn't link it into proficiency," says Morrissey. "The benchmark was set at Certificate III in Financial Services (as a minimum requirement), which was in addition to their business targets."
Once the information was collated, a new model was produced that was designed to meet the needs of the business. And a new and flexible induction program was delivered.
Morrissey says that induction is now in modular format and in key learning blocks. "Now if we want to recruit someone to just sell home insurance, we can do that instead of teaching them about all our other products as well. We've also built in work placement days for skills practise and developed a formal evaluation of both the content and delivery of the program," she says.
At Daikin, Moore identified a need for training in the area of Microsoft Office skills, by getting managers to assess each employee on a basic training needs analysis matrix. Along one axis, each was rated against the importance of Microsoft Office to the role and on the other axis, their competence in this area. "Once we had identified who needed upskilling, Pollak [Daikin's Microsoft Office training provider] reassessed these people via specific application questionnaires and allocated them into beginners, intermediate and advanced training programs," says Moore.
While that addressed the urgent training needs of the organisation, Moore had a lot more to do. He developed a progressive training plan for each role, which is made up of three levels - a new employee program, competency improvement in the role and higher-level competency development.
Through discussion - a much less formal, but equally valid tool, Moore also asked people what training and development they felt they needed. "There was a perceived need for a management development program, so Moore has introduced a highly-tailored Certificate IV in frontline management program."
The last arm of training needs analysis at Daikin is occurring in their new manufacturing facility, where competency-based training is delivered. "Because our product is unique and there are no formal, pre-existing sets of competencies, we are developing our own for each role," says Moore.
At NRMA Insurance, Morrissey guaranteed the business that new recruits would be 70 per cent job-ready after completing the new induction program. "If we got to 50 per cent job-ready in the past, that would have been lucky," says Morrissey.
They now track all KPIs and other business data to the three-month mark to see if learning continues after induction. "Our employees are now 100 per cent proficient in their roles after three months, compared to six months under the old system. And if someone is not at 70 per cent after induction, we know where the gap is and put in a development plan to get them up to speed," she says.
Morrissey has now developed a full learning pathway for each role in each channel (such as call centre, branch, etc), focusing on recruitment, skilling, productivity and career development.
At Daikin, the new performance management system that is currently being implemented will be the primary tool to link the L&D requirements for each person to the progressive training plan for each role.
"Over the next three years, we will move from a traditional reactive, short-term planning and supply model to a longer-term one. There will be more self-directed learning and less facilitator-led training. This will be critical for us as the labour market tightens further and our recruitment targets older workers along with the traditional gen Y. All our training materials will be attractive to all types of learners," says Morrissey.
Daikin is developing a training centre that will be located in its current head office. (Its new head office is under construction at the same site). Service training, apprenticeship development and sales training will be located here.
Morrissey and Moore agree it is vital to get management sponsorship before any training needs analysis has begun and to use a variety of appropriate data collection tools.
"Understand the business goals, as well as the impact a training needs analysis has on the normal business process. You also have to understand the culture and management style and be aware that some people might think, 'I have to put down what my boss thinks I am, rather than what I am,'" says Morrissey, who also feels benchmarking is important.
Both counsel on the importance of communicating the results of the training needs analysis back to employees and following through with suitable, targeted training programs.