In the midst of today’s Great Reshuffle, upskilling and reskilling programs have become a mission for learning and development (L&D) leaders to retain employees. In fact, in the 2022 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report almost half (46%) of L&D leaders said upskilling or reskilling was a top focus this year.

Upskilling refers to enhancing an employee’s existing skills to better fit new job duties or prepare them for a promotion, while reskilling refers to teaching an employee a new set of skills to enable them to transfer within or stay with the company. Both learning processes involve leveraging training to develop employees’ skill sets to what the organization needs to meet goals.

While gaining leadership buy-in is a common challenge for learning leaders, there are times when business leaders request training related to a specific business goal or initiative. For the well-prepared training professional, this request can easily be transformed into a golden opportunity to clearly demonstrate training’s return on investment (ROI) while helping their business meet strategic goals. The key to this golden opportunity? Conducting a thorough needs analysis.

A needs analysis, sometimes called a gap analysis, is a data-based diagnostic tool designed to identify the gap between a current state and an ideal state. Investigating current skills among employees can accurately uncover skills gaps, rather than relying on a “hunch” or manager’s opinion. And why is this so important? Because a training program built from the wrong starting point is like a house of cards — it will eventually tumble to the ground.

A poorly built training program can lead to learner confusion, unnecessary revisions and frustration within the L&D department. An incomplete or missing needs analysis can haunt training professionals throughout the design and development phases of the analyze, design, development, implementation and evaluation (ADDIE) process. Let’s take a look at the five steps to conducting a needs analysis.

How to Conduct a Needs Analysis

  1. Gather Initial Data: During this stage, establish a system for organizing the data that will be generated, and any project prerequisites or strategy.
  2. Planning and Organizing: Determine the scope of the project and the data to be collected, as well as the project’s goals.
  3. Data Collection: This is the visible step most people envision when thinking of a needs assessment. It involves a myriad of data collection tools including interviews, observations, surveys and job task analyses.
  4. Data Analysis: Here the data collected is analyzed. The complexity of this analysis will be dictated by the needs of the project.
  5. Sharing Results: As the name suggests, this step involves scheduling a meeting or preparing a report to the relevant stakeholders and making recommendations based on the data collected.

While the end goal of a needs analysis is data, the “human” goal of this process cannot be overstated. There are many valuable opportunities here to build goodwill, demonstrate value and forge alliances that can benefit the entire L&D team. During all five steps, a training professional has the opportunity to open lines of feedback with stakeholders at multiple levels of the company. Some employees might be intimidated by the idea of upskilling or reskilling, so taking time during an assessment to explain the process to them can help reassure them.

It’s important to remember that while a needs analysis by itself identifies the need or gap; it doesn’t reveal how to create training that will meet that need. That is the job of instructional design. At the conclusion of a needs analysis, data has been collected from the department or group in question. This data has been analyzed, and the results are reported to stakeholders or senior leadership. In the case of upskilling or reskilling employees, this is the time to begin the design phase (using the ADDIE model) of course creation. In fact, the learning objectives written during this phase should directly relate to the gaps discovered during a needs analysis.

After training has been implemented and the employee is now handling new job duties, evaluation of the program’s success can begin. This is when a clear line can be drawn from the needs analysis data to the learning objectives and then to the evaluation of the program’s success. This is the golden opportunity that can help give training leaders a seat at the table. There’s nothing more valuable in proving training’s ROI than data clearly demonstrating success!

Moving Forward

In today’s battle for talent retention, time and money can be scarce. Businesses might be tempted to jump straight into training in order to receive the benefits of a newly skilled employee faster. This is a huge risk, and there are many pitfalls that arise from implementing a program without completing a needs analysis first. For example, the instructional designer and other training professionals won’t have access to key learner data that would inform decision making.

As a result, the training may not adequately prepare the employee for their new roles. Ineffective training can cost a company time and money, as well as lost potential from upskilling and reskilling programs that aren’t aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. Upskilling and reskilling won’t be effective without conducting a needs analysis first. For the savvy training professional, this is an opportunity to align training programs with strategic goals, while demonstrating ROI and the value of the L&D team to the entire organization.