Top 3 Ways to Identify Employee Training Needs

identifying training gapsWe all know that training is an integral part of every business, no matter how it is performed. And while we talk often about types of training and how they are delivered, we haven’t yet taken time to back up and share how those activities are assigned. Our 2015 Learning and Development study dug into this question and exposed the ways that training needs are most likely to be identified. The most common methods are via management observation and feedback, high-potential leader or accelerated development needs, and employee request. The following items, while notable, did not make the top three: training needs assessments, legislative requirements, and performance appraisal results.


If an employee is going to receive training, it’s most likely going to be due to manager request. 78% of companies use this to a moderate or high extent when assigning training to staff. This is best when a manager has a strong understanding of the employee, the work, and the training gap—that ensures the best fit.

A point that is interesting to note: most companies have a centralized learning function, yet training needs are most often identified by managers. That represents an opportunity to ensure those leaders are “in the loop” on the organization’s training goals in order to ensure priorities and requests are aligned.

On the other end of the spectrum, manager/supervisor observations are the most common way organizations measure learning effectiveness, so there is a natural feedback loop to ensure training is meeting each individual’s needs on a case-by-case basis.

Accelerated Development

The second most common method is due to high-potential status or an accelerated need for development. Six in ten companies use this as a method for identifying training needs of employees.

It’s interesting to juxtapose this with some of the findings of our Training Survey, which shows that leadership is the most likely training topic to leverage both external trainers and content. While it remains a popular option for assigning training content, it seems many organizations do not have a handle on the internal resources necessary to train employees on leadership topics.


59% of training assignments are identified up front by employee request. This employee-centric focus is an important one, especially as we move away from spending hours in a classroom and toward smaller, bite-sized pieces of learning when and how the employee needs it.

Over time, this approach is going to help blend training more deeply into the employee’s job so that the person can find and consume training on the fly, supporting performance when and where it is needed. Or, as I’ve heard it so eloquently stated, “Learning isn’t about taking people away from work. Learning is a part of work.”

As you think about the various ways that training is assigned in your organization, what does the mix say about you? Are you relying on managers to see skills gaps? Are you putting employees in the driver’s seat? What about your high-potential staff—are their development needs being met?

Ben Eubanks, Learning AnalystBrandon Hall Group

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