If you're in HR, you've seen it all before. Whether it's accidentally sending a candidate feedback they weren't meant to see or meeting an interviewee who seems like an entirely different person from the one represented in their cover letter, every day is an adventure.

From the annoying yet innocuous 'dead-fish' handshake to devastating instances of discrimination, there are all kinds of circumstances that make the business of hiring and developing humans, well… interesting.

And some are more serious than others.

Recently, we asked a room full of talent professionals to name their biggest challenges when exploring apprenticeships for their businesses.

Can you guess what their #1 biggest challenge was?

Finding a reliable apprenticeship provider.

The struggle is real. Many HR pros have been burnt before, sometimes to the point that they'd rather leave money on the table than go down that road again.

The following is a collection of firsthand accounts of apprenticeship provider partnerships gone horribly wrong, along with a few key pointers on how to avoid starring in your own HR horror story.

#1. Round candidates, square apprenticeships.

After about six months, it was clear to James Brewin, Talent Acquisition Director at Publicis Media, that his apprenticeships provider wouldn't be keeping their promises.

“They were saying ‘we can get you this many people’ and I said ‘ok so you’re telling us you can get 200 candidates for our roles, that’s a lot of people in an in a 4-month period, I don’t think you can deliver that but ok if you think you can.”

In addition to the bold overestimation, their provider (a firm specialised in construction placements) also indicated a worrying lack of understanding about the roles they were recruiting apprentices into.  

“Digital marketing is one of those spaces that if you know, you know. If you studied marketing or media then you will have a bit of understanding what the industry landscape encompasses. I don’t think they did,” James recalls.

Rather than owning up to the gap in knowledge, the provider tried to push-fit candidates.

You can guess how that turned out.

“I don’t think they really truly understood the sheer scale of the operation with us and the roles we were hiring. They didn’t truly understand what they were getting into,” says James.

The final straw came after a "shambolic" assessment day, where too many apprentices were invited and “it was like herding sheep, it didn’t feel personal”.

Soon after, the team at Publicis cancelled the contract. But from then on, it was an uphill battle for James and the team to convince internal stakeholders to give apprenticeships a second chance.

The warning signs:

  • BIG promises
  • A lack of understanding about your business or industry
  • Inability to clearly communicate position requirements
  • Trying to shoe-horn candidates

#2. No one to hear your cries

This next terrible tale comes from the apprentice perspective.

“Overall my experience has been very disappointing, full of false promises and discriminating. I wouldn't wish my experience with them upon anyone,” vents a former apprenticeship candidate in a public Facebook review.

At the start of the programme, candidates were asked to provide ID and other important documentation. Unfortunately, this information was ignored.

“As I am dyslexic, I handed over all of my documentation in relation to this to the staff to look through and make arrangements for my requirements such as extra time. I later found out that my documentation was ignored by the staff on this day as when I started my training and exams I soon discovered that no action was taken by the staff,” writes the former candidate.

Even though the candidate was assured the issue would be resolved, it never was. They were forced to complete their exams without the necessary accommodations for their disability.  To add insult to injury, they also were told they wouldn't be permitted to postpone the exam as this would risk "delaying their course."

This continued for months.

“After some time, they then called us in to register for the exam. When I went in I asked the exams officer if the accommodations had been added as I felt I needed the extra time. When they checked the system it was clear that once again… Nothing had been done.”

Finally, after three months of phone calls and visits to both the provider and the exam board, the right requirements were finally accommodated and the candidate was able to complete their exams fully supported. The exams officers were apologetic about the situation, but due to a crippling lack of training and communication, the process ended up being excruciating for the candidate.

The warning signs:

  • Poor reviews from candidates
  • Lack of understanding of equality and diversity best practices
  • High apprentice turnover rates

#3. Cutting corners on candidates

In a Reddit thread aptly titled, Why are there so many useless apprenticeships?, user Silverwind 9999 says:

"I've been involved with the process of hiring apprentices through providers so I've seen both sides and I can tell you that 9/10 of these providers are nothing but sales teams with targets that shove people into roles as fast as possible."

Yikes. They continue:

"The assessors that some places use to track an apprentice's progress and studies are often covering 30+ individual apprentices at once which doesn't allow them to actually take much of an ongoing interest in what they're doing at all and they're simply ticking boxes whenever they assign coursework or tests."

The true worth of an apprenticeships provider is in the way they treat their candidates.

Apprentices are a rich source of diverse, untapped talent. But that doesn't mean they don't need support.

The right provider will be eager to fill your open roles, but never at the expense of candidate experience.

The warning signs:

  • Lack of a clear training and support programme for apprentices
  • Little to no employer oversight in candidate screening and selection
  • No training and support for line managers

Clearly, we have some work to do.

As apprenticeships continue to play a growing role in the workforce of the future, apprentice providers must commit to keeping up.

If you want to make sure your apprenticeships scheme is a success, first make sure you yourself are in it for the right reasons.

After that, it's just about heeding the warning signs to make sure you don't become the next victim of a poor-fit partnership.