InnoOmnia, a flagship initiative for vocational learning, opened its doors in August 2011. It is a lifelong learning hub located on the Omnia Kirkkokatu campus, offering a unique combination of services, including:
1) Entrepreneurship support for present/would-be entrepreneurs, mainly from arts and crafts or the service sector
2) Work-based/on-the-job learning programs for the vocational education and training (VET) of upper secondary students
3) Innovation and piloting for new pedagogy for vocational teaching and learning, e.g. gamification, mobile learning, entrepreneurial teaching methods
4) Teacher and school leader professional development for K-12 and vocational sectors
InnoOmnia aims to empower teachers, students and entrepreneurs, increase innovation at grassroots level and ensure high-quality VET. It is a community where teachers, students and entrepreneurs share the same coffee pot. All spaces are learning spaces and everyone is both a learner and a teacher. InnoOmnia's development projects pilot different aspects of 21st-century vocational learning, e.g. teaching real-world skills, using mobile technology and cloud-based learning to improve learning outcomes, learning through entrepreneurial projects, etc.
Entrepreneurs apply to join the community and receive daily community and business support. Working with students and actively contributing to the community is a requirement.
InnoOmnia addresses the following educational and social issues:
1. Unemployment: how to empower people to make a living through entrepreneurship?
2. The image of VET: can modern technology, real-world learning, pedagogy and good chances of future empolyment make it an attractive choice for young people?
3. Training teachers and school leaders about 21st-century learning in VET
4. Offering on-the-job/work-based learning opportunities for students, often the first job for a 16/17-year-old
5.Making entrepreneurship sustainable and less of a lone journey by offering community support
Youth unemployment is high in many parts of the world. Education needs models and good practices on how to empower and teach tangible real-life skills to build hope for a better future. The poor image of vocational education is a problem in many countries and therefore it is not seen as a desirable career path. Without upgrading teachers' and trainers' skills and finding new ways of linking education, social partners and entrepreneurship, the possibilities to teach for life are limited.
In Finland, vocational education has had to reach out to working life. InnoOmnia is the first place where working life has been made a daily part of vocational education in the form of entrepreneurs running their businesses amongst - and together with - students and teachers.
Incubators have typically been set up linked to universities. However, innovation and pedagogical development have not hitherto been a part of vocational education. It is now common knowledge that we should no longer be educating students to perform routine jobs for years to come in unchanging industries. Vocational education needs to prepare students for the future, not the past. The fact is that real-world skills have changed and the only way to secure a job in the future is by being able to create a job.
In terms of regional impact, over 50 percent of the 9th graders in the region apply to Omnia. The learning environment and pedagogical development have been a significant attraction as InnoOmnia received a national innovation award in the education sector in 2013.
Since opening in September 2011, InnoOmnia has supported 110 new/would-be entrepreneurs in making their business sustainable. Six hundred students have benefited from on-the-job/work-based learning within the hub or its projects. Seven hundred and forty two teachers and school leaders have been trained in entrepreneurial teaching methods and educational technology, spreading new teaching and learning across vocational education training in Finland. Seven hundred Omnia staff have been exposed to new pedagogy along with 2,700 visitors.
Regarding short-term objectives, the project seeks to introduce new technology such as 3D-printing, increasing the number of would-be entrepreneurs involved in the community and the number of students involved in diverse real-world learning paths. On a national level, importance is laid on further development of high-impact teacher and school leader training and introducing research initiatives into the project. The overall future objective is to analyze the existing hub model for international scalability, and to pilot and establish a network of centers of vocational learning excellence.
InnoOmnia is working closely with the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) on developing VET learning environments and pedagogical models as FNBE is the major funder. Development projects feed directly into the capacity of InnoOmnia staff to deliver high-quality professional development. The bulk of entrepreneurs will in the future come from graduating Omnia students. Research initiatives are now being designed and partners sought, e.g. through UNEVOC. The project encourages people to analyze its hub model and is actively looking for potential partners for the network of VET excellence.
The InnoOmnia model for developing an entrepreneurial mindset and reaching out to the community to involve learners of all ages was chosen as an EU best practice in 2016.