Twenty-three percent of large businesses, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics report released last month*, named ‘Lack of skilled persons’ as the biggest barrier to business performance, higher even than ‘Lower profit margins to remain competitive’ or ‘Lack of customer demand for goods or services.’

The importance of having a highly skilled workforce in a knowledge-based economy is clear, and the role of training and L&D in developing that skilled workforce is equally clear. In addition to enhanced competitive strength, organisations that invest in training that supports their goals are more likely to see boosted staff retention, higher morale and an enhanced ability to satisfy key stakeholders.

Organisations need a structured approach to identify skills gaps so that they can fill them: a Training Needs Assessment (TNA) is the means to do this.

There are two kinds of TNA. The first examines an organisation’s overall strategic intent and assesses the gaps to be filled in order to accomplish business-wide strategic goals. A workshop of executives and senior managers is the workhorse for this type of TNA. I recommend preparing and distributing pre-read material to participants before a workshop of this kind; the material should scope emerging trends and observed best practice. A survey of participant views on their organisation’s skill levels in certain areas is also a useful workshop input.

The other type of TNA is a more ‘nitty-gritty’ effort where individuals’ skills levels relative to their own job requirements are assessed, and then pooled so that their organisation can organise training programs to meet these individual requirements. Note that the two types of TNA are by no means mutually exclusive.

But what are individuals’ own skills levels compared against? A competency framework provides a template of ‘ideal types’ of skill mixes required for each grade of position, against which individual skill levels can be compared. So a competency framework is necessary before this type of TNA can be conducted.

Here’s a straightforward nine-step process to develop a competency framework and training needs assessment:

1. decide and agree on the major job categories to be incorporated into the competency framework
2. collate and review relevant documents setting out qualifications and competency units, using these as a base for the competency framework. Competency units under the National Recognised Training framework (freely available at provide a good starting point
3. cross-reference competency units to job categories and build a competency profile for each job category
4. review these competency profiles with business unit leaders and executives, and adjust and refine them as necessary by comparing them with recognised high performing individuals; convene and use working groups or review committees as necessary for this purpose
5. construct a matrix of skills and competencies against job categories, of which the diagram below is a simplified example:

The training needs assessment follows from the competency framework:

6. develop individual assessment forms for each job category based on the competency framework. These will list the competency, the staff member’s scoring of their skill for each competency, a score for a ‘second view’ assessment of the staff member’s skills (usually the staff member’s direct manager) and the importance of the skill (as rated by the manager)
7. draft and distribute corporate communications to precede the actual assessment of individuals’ training needs
8. distribute assessment forms to managers, preferably with details of a contact person available to answer questions, and
9. collate forms and assimilate/tabulate results, building an overall organisational training requirement profile: in effect a ‘menu’ of current training needs.

Training need assessments are key management tools in the knowledge economy, and lynchpins of enhanced organisational performance. To conduct a TNA for your organisation phone me on 0414 383 374 or email

I look forward to hearing from you.


Michael Carman

Director | Michael Carman Consulting
PO Box 686, Petersham NSW 2049 | M: 0414 383 374 | W:

* Australian Bureau of Statistics Selected Characteristics of Australian Business 2010-11 cat. no. 8167.0.  Large businesses are those with 200 or more staff.