Assessing employee learning and development needs

Undertaking an LNA rather than a TNA, which according to the CIPD (2020c) is often seen as a one-off event to satisfy' a particular need, presents an opportunity' to really consider what the organization requires in staff skills and knowledge, in response to business circumstances looking ahead. As already highlighted, the process will need to come from the business strategy' and in turn any learning strategy' which has been considered. Both formal and informal methods might be used here.

The identification of individual staff development needs will begin at the recruitment and selection stage when clear decisions need to be made about role requirements. Once in post the employee will generally be subject to regular assessments of their performance and associated feedback, which will enable judgements to be made about future learning requirements. As we saw in Chapter 6, the learning process is not exclusively about providing inputs of new information to enhance knowledge and understanding. It is also about helping to sustain levels of employee motivation, the type of support on offer from managers and colleagues, the learning environment created, the quality of the feedback provided, and the rewards which may arise from someone being able to complete tasks correctly, on time and to everyone’s satisfaction. Several decisions will need to be made therefore about how best to implement development opportunities in a planned way, based on a process of needs identification. These different stages are explored briefly in the section that follows.

Creating a current job description

Scoping an existing vacancy or defining the parameters of a new role will generally be undertaken jointly between the HR department and the line manager of the department/section where the requirement arises. This may involve consideration of existing comparable jobs internally or externally, in particular where a new position is being created in response to an identified business need. These job requirements will usually be captured in a job description or role profile which will list key duties and responsibilities, as well as skills, knowledge, and experience required by the job holder. Care will need to be taken not to contravene any discrimination legislation at this stage. Unless a role has particular requirements under the Equality Act 2010 (as highlighted in Chapter 5), it will not be appropriate to specify certain things the employer may feel are required, including the age of the applicant. As we saw it will only be where health and safety considerations arise in a job role that some type of specification of age may be allowed.

The selection process – data gathering

During the selection process different types of information will be collected and checked, as far as possible, to confirm the data provided by external candidates. Part of the information needed will be about current skills sets and experience, qualifications achieved and training already undertaken, as well as predictions about future performance. Where internal candidates are being considered, the organization will already have some information available on which to make judgements about promotions or horizontal job moves to different parts of the operation. The quality of this latter information is arguably higher when dealing with people whose job performance, level of motivation, and skill set is already known, and should provide good data about learning and development needs when job roles change.

Interviews, the application of psychometric tests, and performance reviews are all sources of information about candidates. The first two will be widely used for external candidates where no previous performance data is available (other than through references which are now considered unreliable in many cases).The process of performance appraisal used on existing employees will provide useful data on internal candidates. All three methods are considered briefly here, in the context of providing information about learning and development needs.


The quality and accuracy of the job description/role profile is very important in that it provides the basis for matching job applicants against specified requirements for a particular role. During the recruitment and selection process judgements will be made about not only qualifications and relevant experience but also possible future performance based on information gained from a number of sources. The selection interview and its effectiveness depends on the ability of the interviewers to gather consistent and accurate information about a candidate’s ability. At this early stage in the selection process it would be possible to include some questions about training that has been given by a previous employer to help make judgements about what might be needed now. Some further details on different types of interviews are given in Appendix 2.

Another commonly used tool are psychometric tests which will enhance the amount of data being considered and will be used alongside more standard interviews.

Psychometric testing

The accuracy of any approach to selecting staff is referred to as its validity. The validity of a selection method is its ability to predict job success. An effective selection tool must also be reliable. Reliability refers to the consistency of judgements made by an interviewer if he/she were to interview the candidate again or if another person were to interview the same candidate. Both these elements can be covered where an appropriate psychometric test is used to assess a candidate’s suitability for job role. From the perspective of an LNA such tests may indicate a propensity for particular types of development, levels of motivation, and so on. They are commonly used eg when running assessment centres for staff promotion purposes. A wide range of such tests are available in the marketplace, some off-the-shelf, others designed specifically for an organization. Whoever is making decisions on the suitability of a particular test, administering it and providing feedback must be trained to do this. Any test which is used must be culturally suitable as well which will be important when considering the types of development opportunities to be provided.

Performance reviews

Appraisal is the process of looking back at an employee’s performance and behaviour at work over an agreed period of time, and making decisions accordingly. It provides an opportunity to review what has been achieved and the employee’s work content, volume, and load. It is also about looking ahead within an agreed time period to see what work should be done in the future, agree on objectives, and how these can be achieved. It therefore requires an assessment of what skills and knowledge the job holder currently has and what skills and knowledge the job holder requires for their work in the future. This performance record can then be used in decision making around the suitability of an internal candidate and their ‘trainability’. Further details on the appraisal process are provided in Appendix 3.

These three methods of data collection can help to inform decisions about what level and type of development will be needed, as well as how long this might take, what particular circumstances will need to be considered, and so on. Qualifications and levels of experience required for a role can be checked and verified at this early stage but judgement will be needed about further development applicants will require, once selected and in post.

Identifying development needs as a result of the selection process

Once a job offer has been made it is normal practice for the new recruit to have a discussion with their line manager about what initial development might be needed, based on an assessment of gaps found in the recruitment and selection process. Often a new recruit will have sourced a vacancy based on the promise of good career development opportunities. As highlighted in Chapter 4, this has been found to be the case from research conducted amongst some of the younger generations entering the workforce. For older recruits who have a lot of experience initial training may be around some of the mandatory programmes highlighted earlier. For job changers there will still be a requirement for some modified induction into the new role. Some key questions to ask at this early stage of employment will be:

  • • How long do new starters take to reach experienced workers’ standards?
  • • Who is responsible for training and developing new employees?
  • • How will this be done?
  • • Have the instructors been trained on how to instruct?
  • • What checks are there on trainee progress as regards suitability, output, and quality?

In designing a learning and development plan it may be necessary to include some detail on ‘train the trainer’ type programmes for staff with these responsibilities, in particular regarding the use of digital methods.

It must also be remembered that there is no point in acquiring a skill, if the trainee is not given an opportunity to use it within a reasonable period under normal working conditions. If this is not possible, the skill is likely to be lost and will have to be relearned. It is the responsibility of line managers to ensure that adequate opportunities are made available for the new recruit to practise and learn. This is often done by allotting a more experienced colleague to help the new employee.

These methods of identifying learning needs have changed in some ways with the advent of more sophisticated recruitment methods including the use of social media. The use of psychometric tests has grown considerably in the past 20 years or so. Standardized tests or tests of cognitive ability can be good predictors of job performance, but should not be used in isolation but rather as part of an overall approach to selection decisions.

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