Planning for A Needs Assessment

March 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm 2 comments

A needs assessment is the first step in the training design process. A quality needs assessment helps an organization correctly identify the causes of performance issues, identify problems that can be solved by training, develop the appropriate content, and through the right training, deliver behavior changes that are aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives (Noe, 2010).  To illustrate how a needs assessment can benefit an organization, this post will use the Administration on Aging as an example.

The Administration on Aging is a federal agency that aims to help older Americans

The Administration on Aging provides services to support older American living at home and in communities

maintain their health and independence in their homes and communities by developing a comprehensive, cost-effective network of community and home based services (AOA, 2011). These services include nutrition services, transportation, adult day care, legal assistance, and health promotion programs. They also provide Ombudsmen services for people in long term care facilities, providing elder rights protection to the most vulnerable populations.  The agency funds a network of services at the state, Territory, local and tribal levels to provide services. The agency is facing a number of pressure points that are likely to impact its ability to fulfill its mission. The most important is the “greying” of America. One in every eight Americans is over the age of 65 and the older adult population is expected to increase to 55 million by 2030, a 36% increase (AOA, n.d.). This population is healthier and living longer in the community, but they may also be caring for their own aging parents or their grandchildren. About 9% of older Americans live below the poverty level (AOA, n.d.). AOA must consider how the growth in the older adult population, as well as the changes in their lifestyles will impact the focus of its services and how it provides them. While the older adult population is growing, AOA’s funding levels have remained flat. Similar to other federal agencies, AOA is seeing a significant portion of its workforce reach the age of retirement over the next few years. However, under the current hiring freezes, retiring staff will not be replaced. This means the agency must consider how to structure its work in order to provide services to a growing population with fewer resources. A needs assessment could help the agency identify what, if any issues, need to be addressed with training so the agency can continue to fulfill its mission to provide quality services. A needs assessment would consist of an organization, person and task analysis (Noe, 2010).

In planning a needs assessment for this agency, it would be critical to begin with their stakeholders (Noe, 2010). Stakeholders are people who carry out the mission of the agency, people who have the ability to impact how work gets done in the agency, and people who are served by the agency. Stakeholders not only provide valuable information for the needs assessment, they are also key to the success of any training or development activities that might come out of the assessment. It is important to have their buy-in and support from the beginning. AOA’s stakeholders include agency leadership, staff who carry out the work of the agency, grantees, partner agencies, and older adults and their families served by the agency.

The organization analysis would focus on identifying how training supports the mission of the agency and what resources are available for training (Noe, 2010). Agency leadership would be instrumental in helping to define the strategic goals and objectives of the agency, as well as where it may be headed based on current trends. Given the limited amount of time leaders have, it might be most efficient to schedule interviews to gather this information from them. These interviews would focus on the mission of the agency, how that mission might be shifting, and concerns about how the agency will need to adapt to meet the needs of its stakeholders. In addition to interviews, this designer should also review the agency’s annual reports, applicable policies and laws impacting the agency, and any evaluations of its key programs and training activities. Stakeholders outside of the organization such as partner agencies and the older adults and families served by the agency may be able to offer some additional insight into the how well the organization is fulfilling its mission. As outsiders, they may notice blind spots in performance the agency is unaware of. These stakeholders could be engaged through questionnaires and focus groups. The designer could also review transcripts of the town hall meetings AOA conducts with stakeholders in communities.

Smiling woman in a group.

A focus group is one way to get feedback from stakeholders.

The person analysis would help determine to what extent training would help address performance issues by identifying factors related to knowledge, skills and competencies (Noe, 2010). Training would not modify issues related to other factors like the work environment or agency policies. An important part of the needs assessment process is distinguishing training issues from non-training issues and applying the right strategies to address the specific issues. A person analysis at the AOA would need to focus on assessing the knowledge, skills and abilities of the current workforce and comparing this to the evolving needs of the agency. Training could be used to fill any gaps discovered. Data collection for the person analysis could be conducted through observation and questionnaires.  These approaches would allow the instructional designer to collect objective data about the current level of performance as well as employees’ perceptions about their needs.

A task analysis would describe the work activities carried out by the employees. An organization like AOA might be best served by the use of competency models in this phase. A competency model focuses on how work is accomplished and objectives are met (Noe, 2010). This differs from a job analysis that focuses on what is accomplished. In the type of work that AOA does, it is likely that no two projects are the same. Their employees must have the ability to apply their knowledge and skills to a variety of different situations. A competency model would help the agency identify the knowledge, skills, attitudes and personal characteristics that are necessary to fill the various functions in the agency (Noe, 2010). AOA might also use a competency model to assess how their grantees carry out their work for the agency. This would help AOA understand how to support their grantees and match the right AOA employee to the various grants. This analysis could be conducted by working with agency leadership to identify AOA’s current and future needs. The instructional designer could conduct interviews or focus groups with employees and grantees. The designer could then work with leadership to develop and validate a competency model. This could then be used to develop training and development activities to ensure AOA employees have the capacity to fulfill the work of the agency.

Conducting a needs assessment is essential to developing a training approach that will actually help an organization meet its goals and objectives. The needs assessment helps the organization understand what it is trying to accomplish, what skills and resources need to be in place to meet its objectives, and where there are gaps between current and desired performance. By carefully analyzing the organization, tasks, and people, the instructional designer can collect objective information to describe the needs of the organization. This helps define the performance issues, determine when training is an appropriate approach and identify the necessary content for training strategies. Without this information, the designer and organization are just guessing at what their training needs are. This can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities. Organizations like the AOA are facing real challenges and must prepare their workforce to adapt in order to continue to fulfill the agency’s mission. In developing a strategic approach to training and development, a needs assessment is the first step to meeting these challenges.

References

AOA. (2011, March 10). “About AoA.” Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved March 6, 2012 from http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/About/index.aspx

AOA. (n.d.). “A Profile of Older Americans: 2011.” Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved March 6, 2012 from http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/Aging_Statistics/index.aspx

Image of man getting his blood pressure checked. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MH900422344.jpg

Image of woman in group. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MH900202163.jpg

Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Celia Wilson  |  March 10, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Alexis;

    You presented a well-rounded view into this organization. After all ID’s/Trainers should be prepared by understanding the business they are working for or with (Noe, 2010). You answered all the questions Dr. Mike requested. Your choices of data collection make sense in light of the company’s concerns. Deciding to use the Competency Model is excellent. Noe teaches that the key factors for success are a positive attitude among peers, managers, and employees about participation in training activities: managers’, peers’ willingness to provide information to rainees about how they can more effectively use knowledge, skill, or behaviors learned in training on the job; and opportunities for trainees to use training content in their jobs (2011). You’ve addressed this quite well. I also liked that you mentioned stakeholders outside of the agency. Well done, Madam!

    Reply
  • 2. Dr. Burke  |  March 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Alexis,
    You provided excellent rationale as to why the Administration on Aging needs to consider the growth of the older adult population, as well as their lifestyle changes, in determining their future training needs. These changes along with a flattening of funding levels, as you pointed out, will affect the quality and quantity of service. Good job identifying the stakeholders, especially the inclusion of the partnering agencies and families of the clients.

    Starting with interviews of the AOA leadership is a very good approach. The review of the agency’s reports, policies, laws impacting the agency and any evaluations will be important in your ability to validate the data collected from the leadership. However, the results of the questionnaires and follow-up interviews you proposed for the partner agencies, older adults who receive service and their families will be invaluable. I also liked you idea of observations followed by questionnaires of employees. This strategy will be a very effective way of determining current level of performance as well as their perception of needs.

    Developing a competency model is a great suggestion for your task analysis. The results as you stated could be used to develop training that assures AOA employees have the capacity to fulfill the mission and goals of the agency. You made a very important observation in your closing statement; without an effective needs assessment the designer and organization are wasting resources and missing opportunities. You did a very good job on your AOA Needs Assessment Plan.
    Mike

    Reply

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