Activities Aimed at Creating More Favorable Legal and Administrative Conditions for Running a Business
The first of the aforementioned forms of commitment - creating more favorable legal and administrative conditions - encompassed lobbying- related activities, which were undertaken by COs representing the interests of their members (see Tab. 5.14, quotation 3). At the central (national) level, COs engaged in legislative work with a view to developing the most favorable - from the perspective of the entire industry - legal solutions. COs served both sides - not only the companies, which operate within legal boundaries, but also the lawmakers themselves. Because of their strong ties with their sectors of the economy, the studied COs were an important source of information on the industry. In effect, if they managed to secure the position of a trustworthy partner in the eyes of the decision-makers, one which places group interests above individual interests, their knowledge was indispensable in the process of developing and implementing various development programs (aimed not just at the companies operating within the given sector). In this way, we are dealing with a win-win situation: the COs supported the public authorities in shaping economic policy, while also creating developmental opportunities for the entities operating in a given sector.
At the regional level, COs were even more active in undertaking various activities, working toward the broadly understood benefit of their represented industries. The benefits obtained this way were, as a priority, meant to serve the interests of the cluster members, and - indirectly - those of the regional economy. COs fulfilled the role of consultants for self-government authorities in the creation of strategic plans of action, primarily in the area of shaping industry and cluster policy.
However, the biggest benefits were seen by those entities which were the most active in the scope of lobbying work. By engaging in projects initiated by their cluster, the cluster members had better opportunities in terms of influencing the action taken at this level and - what is the most important - having their own particular interest taken into account as well, as compared to entities who took on the role of passive observers. One example of the degree of the benefits obtained by companies who displayed above-than-average commitment in this regard is the process of selecting regional smart specializations, as clusters from both the ICT and metal sectors had a considerable influence on defining smart specializations in their regions. In effect, the award for commitment consisted of the opportunity to influence economic reality, which COs attempted to shape in such a way, as to increase the chances of executing their own business strategy (see Tab. 5.14, quotation 4).
Activities Aimed at Adjusting the Educational Profile in the Region to the Needs and Requirements of COs
The third identified form of commitment of COs consisted of supporting the development of a regional resource database on skills. In cooperation with educational institutions (at different levels: from vocational training, through secondary education, up to higher education), COs influenced - by undertaking joint actions - the adjustment of the educational profile to the requirements of the labor market (see Tab. 5.14, quotation 5). The fact that COs were situated between the business sector, the R&D sector, and the education sector facilitated the identification of market needs and at the same time allowed for their fulfillment by introducing the expected changes in the education system.
The first area of cooperation between COs and educational entities was the profiling of regional skills resources to the requirements of local and regional economy. Knowledge on employer needs provided by COs helped educational entities prepare the skills resources which were desirable on the labor market. The above cooperation was not limited to solving current problems, but it also accounted for the future needs of employers and the means of their fulfillment. The second crucial area for shared activities from the perspective of the quality of education was the organization of classes focused on dual education, that is, the combination of theoretical classes with practical ones. The above classes often took the form of professional practices and workshops in an actual work environment (with the use of labs, machines, and production machines made available by the companies), as well as educational visits, during which the companies demonstrated their solutions to the students. The visits allowed the students to familiarize themselves with the specific character of the production plant in question and enrich their theoretical knowledge with the practical experience.
However, the commitment of cluster members in the development of a regional skills resource database was not without motive - it was a reaction to growing problems on the labor market, tied to the deficit of specialists (see Tab. 5.14, quotation 6). In their business operations, cluster members primarily depended on the skill resources mastered in schools operating in the vicinity. For that reason, it was in their broadly understood interest to support the teaching process and tailor it to the requirements of the local and regional economy (and, first and foremost, to their own needs as companies). The inclusion of COs in the dual education system brought about tangible benefits tie to gaining priority access to the pool of alumni and the possibility of shaping their skills in accordance with the requirements of their own operational profile from the early stages of the didactic process. Support of the didactic process offered by COs and their members allowed students to gain practical skills already during school education itself, which considerably reduced the time required and the financial resources that employers would have to devote in future to prepare their employees to work in a given position. Participation in activities organized by the COs, which were focused on developing human resources in the region (participation in the creation of postgraduate studies in universities, the joint creation of curricula and holding classes, selecting topics to be explored in the course of graduate work) has allowed the cluster members to gain particular benefits: the ability to influence the process of shaping the skills of and - first and foremost - gaining access to a pool of highly qualified employees. The contact established with a university and its staff in the course of joint projects has provided cluster members with priority with respect to selecting the most qualified alumni, which - given the deficit in the labor force - should be seen as a big privilege providing these companies with competitive advantage over their competition.
Because of the community in interests, the results of the activities undertaken by committed cluster members in the studied COs had a positive influence on the remaining members of those COs as well (who took on the role of passive observers), or even the entire industry (and in some cases, the regional or national economy as a whole). This means that the commitment of units sharing a single objective may be beneficial to the whole, provided that the attempts to secure individual needs also generate common benefits. In this way, the egoistical motives which push companies toward taking an active stance have translated into benefits with a much broader scope, which far exceeds single cluster members or a single CO.