The object of the given research focuses on the activities and initiatives undertaken by the communities of practice relating to their participation in the national qualifications systems, including the international and domestic experience of involving the communities of practice in the development, shaping, supporting and updating of the national qualifications systems.
An in-depth perspective is provided on the models of interaction between the sphere of vocational and professional education and the world of work, that is known as social partnership in the sphere of education that has been shaped differently in different countries of the world, as well as on programme documents and strategies in this area, like the “Framework of actions for the lifelong development of competencies and qualifications”, and other initiatives aimed at fostering and strengthening this partnership.
The performed research carries substantial evidence to support the assumption that the involvement of social partners is not always a direct projection from the model of regulation employed on the national level. And thus it often is observed in the absence of a respective rigid legal framework, or in a context characterized by a combination of a certain amount of legal regulation with diverse voluntary formats (as is witnessed in the Netherlands, or in Finland), or in contexts characterized by purely voluntary formats (like in the United Kingdom, under the market – regulated model).
Institutional models explored on the example of a number of countries demonstrate their dependence on the industrial relations that have taken root in each individual country.
Overall, the areas of activities shaping the identity of communities of practice envisage:
- the development of occupational standards;
- the elaboration of qualifications and of qualifications requirements, development and modernization of the national qualifications frameworks;
- provision of quality assurance of qualifications, including – assessment, recognition and validation of competences and qualifications.
It has been established in the course of the research that in terms of managing\administering qualifications, the sector approach has proven to be most effective that is coupled with the establishment of a coordinating body that ensures that common principles, approaches and methodologies underpin all relevant processes and activities.
The institutional formats underpinning activities of the communities of practice in the field of establishing and maintaining the national qualifications system can take a variety of options, including sector councils, sector skills councils, sector learning organizations, skills committees, occupational observatories, foundations to support continuing education and training, expert councils, sector occupational councils, national training councils.
The model underpinning the operation of such entities represents a market mechanism that integrates decentralized responsibility of employers on the local level, on the one hand, and their consolidated responsibility for the development and enhancement of competitiveness in a specific sector on the national level – on the other.
According to the research findings, sector institutional bodies representing interests of certain communities of practice, are as a rule, financed by the state either directly, or indirectly. The state benefits from financing sector organizations as it ensures their involvement/indirect participation in the development of respective sectors and in the implementation in these sectors of an efficient human resources development policy. The latter is especially important to ensure implementation of the policy priorities set down by the state for the sectors that have to produce the biggest impact on the economic growth, labour productivity and other national priorities and goals.
Apart from public funds an important role in the qualifications systems (outside the European Union and the economically developed countries) is played by donor organizations and development agencies. These donors and development agencies on top of injecting the very idea of the NQS, provide certain «seed funding» to take the national qualifications system off the ground and to involve employers in it. These organizations are represented, for example, by the ILO, the European Training Foundation, and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the World Bank, the European Social Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, and the OECD. Practically all developing countries, as well as middle income countries, have been taking advantage of the donor funding, with donors all playing similar roles in supporting reforms in VET and specifically - in the development of the national qualifications systems.
Evidence resulting from the analysis reveals that for the qualifications framework and system to live up to their roles, a number of pre-conditions must be observed. The first of these pre-conditions is for all stakeholders, that is - actors from the national education system, from the world of work and from the state, to be aware of the rationale behind the national qualifications framework and system as tools for the modernization of vocational and professional education and for ensuring a balance in the demand and supply of qualifications. The next pre-condition is the joint participation of all stakeholders in the development of the qualifications framework and their involvement in managing, administering and updating the qualifications framework.
The interaction of all stakeholders within the national qualifications system can be either direct – with representatives of the world of work and the world of education together developing the NQS. Or, it can be indirect – with the system of education using the data provided by the labour market stakeholders to develop the NQS and its elements. The involvement of the labour market stakeholders can vary in the degree of its institutionalization.
In the context of Russia, with its tendency towards transformation of the model of rigid state regulation of industrial relations into the neo-corporate model by means of strengthening the role of the communities of practice, the overall culture of the participation of the latter in the national qualifications system is only being formed. Thus, the role of the state in regulating this participation must be continued, and the sector perspective in their activities must be ensured.
The performed research has revealed that from the start the communities of practice in Russia have been formed on a sector principle and thus they can develop and grow in the format of networks supported by information technologies. Evidence shows that the IT tools are acquiring an ever-growing role in promoting the above networking.
Currently those communities of practice that have a successful experience in developing occupational standards, are being transformed into councils for occupational qualifications under the aegis of the National Council for Occupational Qualifications under the President of the Russian Federation.
The research paper carries a number of recommendations that can be used to further foster and take forward the operation of communities of practice based on the international best practice samples adapted to the Russian context.
 In this case occupational standards are regarded as an element of the national qualifications system.