Soft skills development has overtaken leadership training to become the top priority for organisational learning in the coming year, according to a new study by Video Arts, the learning content specialist.

In a survey of 292 learning and development professionals, 63% claimed that their number one priority for the next 12 months was to develop the so-called ‘soft skills’ of employees – the skills that relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with others. The second priority was leadership training, which had consistently been ranked as the top priority since 2009. Other key areas of focus for L&D are customer service training, professional skills development and compliance training.

Martin Addison, CEO of Video Arts, said: “Leadership development has been the top priority in our survey for the past three years, as many organisations have believed that the secret of greater success lies in more effective leadership. This year it has been pushed into second place as L&D teams are increasingly recognising that technical qualifications and knowledge are not enough; employees also need soft skills for organisations to be successful. Issues of personality, attitude and behaviour have a big impact on performance in the workplace because they affect how well people are able to communicate face-to-face and work effectively with others.”

The survey also asked L&D teams about how they deliver training and their plans for the future. Face-to-face training is still widely used, with 81% of organisations using classroom learning. E-learning (79%), coaching (72%) and experiential learning (53%) remain popular options and newer forms of delivery are also gaining ground: virtual classrooms (27%) and mobile learning (12%). 64% of organisations plan to increase their provision of coaching over the next two years; 55% will offer more learning through virtual classrooms and 55% will provide more experiential learning.

A growing number of L&D teams (51%) are now using e-learning to provide soft skills development. E-learning is also used for compliance training (53%) health & safety training (47%); leadership and management training (42%); induction training (42%); professional skills training (34%) and customer service training (37%). 18% of L&D practitioners who don’t use e-learning say they plan to implement it in the future.

“E-learning is enjoying a resurgence and our data shows that organisations are increasingly using video in e-learning to provide a richer media experience,” said Martin Addison. “It used to be that e-learning courses were used more widely for ‘hard skills’, such as IT training, compliance and health & safety but the need to provide cost effective training, combined with the availability of better courses and better IT support, seems to be encouraging more organisations to use e-learning for soft skills development.”

209% of organisations claim their training budget will be increased over the coming year; 53% say it will stay the same and 27% expect it to be cut.

86% of L&D teams use video in their training, predominantly as part of classroom training (71%); for short pieces of bite-sized learning (56%); for online training (29%); in self-authored e-learning courses (27%) and to support one-to-one coaching (21%). Video is primarily used in soft skills development (60%); leadership and management training (55%); customer service training (51%) and professional skills training (38%).

The most popular applications for mobile learning are soft skills development, leadership and management training, professional skills, product training and customer service training. “Advocates of m-learning claim it delivers learning at the point of need and that users are more likely to participate because of the bite-sized format,” said Martin Addison. “We expect that more L&D teams will consider m-learning as a delivery option in the future.”