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How to Identify Training Needs

A key skill for a trainer is that of establishing needs before any new learning is created. This takes place before the planning stage to ascertain what sort of intervention is appropriate.
Jigsaw pieces showing the words learning need and training design

For many courses such as clinical skills and IT training, learning needs have already been established and ready-made lesson plans are available.

Identify Training Needs at the Start

However, trainers are often asked to create training for something new. They could simply design what they feel is appropriate. But training is most effective when learning needs are clearly identified at the start.

A key skill for a trainer is that of establishing needs before any new learning is created. This takes place before the planning stage to ascertain what sort of intervention is appropriate.

For example, a manager may ask,

‘I need my staff to be able to do ‘X’. Can you provide some training for us?’
The trainer will arrange to meet the manager and explore their needs in more detail. Together, they build an understanding of the exact requirements and what the training should achieve. In other words, what does the manager want to be different once it has taken place?

Case Study 1. Telephone Skills training

The manager of a Patient Appointments Centre asks if her staff can have telephone skills training. No such training is provided currently, and she has become aware of inconsistencies in the quality of calls. Trainer and manager meet to establish exactly what the problem is, and what needs to change as a result of training.
They agree staff should have the opportunity to practice their skills and receive feedback, and for this reason it should be classroom-based.
They narrow the need down to specific areas shown in the table below.
Request from Manager Clarified learning need
Teach newly appointed administration staff good telephone techniques. Be polite to all callers.
Recognise the stresses many callers are under.
Follow the telephone protocol laid out in the Department Standard Operating Procedures.
Don’t sound as though reading from a script.
Ensure caller’s needs have been met before call ends.
Later, the trainer will develop these into learning outcomes which form the basis of a lesson plan.

Case Study 2. Recruitment & Selection training

A hospital ward has found the abilities of two recently appointed nurses failed to match expectations. The Ward Manager has linked this to poor recruitment and selection practices. She notes that most of her staff have never received training in interviewing.
Part of the conversation between trainer and manager is shown below:
Trainer: Can you tell me more about why you’d like this training?

Manager: Yes. Recently we’ve made a couple of poor appointments. So I then sat in on some recruitment interviews. I found that my staff tend to ask a series of undemanding questions and don’t probe at all. As a result they miss opportunities to really find out what applicants are like.

Trainer: I see. Well, we can offer coached interview practice in a classroom session. Do they base their questions on the Person Specification and Job Description for the post?

Manager: No, and that’s part of the problem. Our Job Descriptions are generic and don’t identify the specific needs of a role. The Person Specifications are similar, they’re quite vague. This makes it hard for the interview panel to form meaningful questions.

Trainer: Would it be helpful to include training in writing Job Descriptions and Person Specifications? We could create that part online, so the programme will be a blend with interview practice undertaken in the classroom. How does that sound?

Manager: That sounds just what we need. Let’s meet again when you have a more detailed plan.

The conversation has produced a shared understanding which is summarised in the table below:

Request from Manager Clarified need
Reduce recruitment mistakes due to poor interview and selection techniques. Write accurate Person Specifications and Job Descriptions.
Shortlist only applicants who meet stated requirements.
Question in a manner which is politely assertive.
Probe answers during interviews.
Use additional methods to establish suitability of candidates.

Identifying Additional Needs

An additional learning need has been highlighted with regard to Job Descriptions and Person Specifications. If this conversation had not taken place, the trainer might only have discovered the problem during the training. By this time it would have been too late to include any additional content.

Does a set of PowerPoint slides count as a plan?

Lesson plans are often available for training that has taken place in the past. But sometimes there is no plan, just a set of PowerPoint slides left over from a previous trainer. This is an ideal time to clarify exactly what the learning needs are. By speaking to the responsible manager or topic lead, a trainer can establish exactly what it is the learners should be able to do.

If a trainer suggests changing a passive PowerPoint lecture into training which is learner-centred, it is usually appreciated by managers.

Matching Training to the Learning Need With Social Distancing

Virus restrictions do not diminish the need to design training which meets the learning need, although the situation may demand creative approaches. Nonetheless, throughout this challenging time, trainers need to keep in mind their responsibility to ensure training is effective and maintains patient safety.

Talking Point

  • Have you ever been involved with a conversation to clarify the purpose of training? What was the result?
  • Have you ever been asked to provide training based only on an old set of PowerPoint slides? If so, what happened? What might you have done differently?
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