The Payroll Administrator Apprenticeship

This week’s blog has been written by my colleague Ian Holloway, discussing the Payroll Administrator Apprenticeship – part of the work that our employer group are heavily involved with.

Whilst they have always been a route into a career or used for career changes, apprenticeships have achieved higher profile in recent months.


Probably, we have to look all the way back to the Government’s 2014 Autumn Statement pledge to create up to 3 million more apprentices by 2020.  At this point, it is worth mentioning that skills is a devolved policy, so the 2014 announcement actually meant the creation of apprenticeships in England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own existing skills programmes).

Further to the 2014 announcement, the reason for the increase in profile is threefold:

  1. The protection of the term apprenticeship in the Enterprise Act 2015
  2. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy from April 2017, and
  3. The transition from employer-designed Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) to employer-led Trailblazer Standards and Assessment Plans adhering to strict guidelines

Re the third point, whilst SASE and the new employer-led programmes can run alongside each other for the time being, for payroll, unfortunately, many professional and representative bodies have withdrawn their apprenticeship programmes.

This is where I come in as co-chair for the development of the Payroll Administrator Standard and Assessment Plan for the payroll profession – in England.  Alongside my co-chair Patricia Conway at Card Factory, we recognised that withdrawal of recognised SASE apprenticeship programmes before the new employer-led programme was ready was very disappointing.  It has left our profession without any recognised apprenticeship programme in place.  This has to be addressed and the purpose of this blog is to update fellow professionals on progress so far.

Recent activity

Patricia and I inherited a Standard that had been approved by the Department for Education (DfE) in 2016.  However, we soon realised that this was not a Standard that we were comfortable working with.  We agreed this with the Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) (who assumed responsibility from the DfE) who confirmed that it did not represent the depth and breadth of our profession.  So, we started again!

For the last few months we have been establishing an ‘employer group’ that will input ideas into the creation of a new Standard and an accompanying Assessment Plan.  The Standard is the bare bones of what we as a group see a level 3 payroll apprentice having to be able to do, whilst the Assessment Plan will provide more detail about the actual learning outcomes and how these will be assessed.  In turn, this will enable training providers to develop apprenticeship delivery programmes and assessors to work on programmes that will assess whether the learning outcomes have been achieved.

The employer group is made-up of a group of employers that we feel give a broad view of the payroll profession as a whole.  We are grateful for the support and input from a number of large and small organisations, private and public sector.  Plus, the group comprises individuals from software companies, payroll bureau operations, consultants and industry specialists.  It is not the same group that is listed on Gov.UK at the time of writing but a newly constituted group.

Given that this is a totally employer-led initiative, Patricia and I have been greatly encouraged by the level of support, and we feel that we have engaged with the correct people to develop a Standard and Assessment Plan that will be fit for purpose and approved by the IFA.

The present

The first thing that the group is doing is developing a set of Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSBs) that we believe are applicable to an apprentice at this level.  For example:

  • There are certain core payroll skills that the apprentice must have including information about the payroll function, where it sits in the company structure and what its overall aim is. Further, not all payroll is the same, therefore, this Knowledge section must try and embrace the wide range of issues that may be encountered in the workplace
  • There are certain key payroll skills that an employer would naturally expect an apprentice to know, for example how tax and NICs are calculated, SSP, SMP, Student Loans etc.
  • There are certain skills and behaviours that must be demonstrated at the workplace to enable the apprentice to fulfil their role. This includes the ability to work with, and query, the data that they have received, appreciating the deadlines to which they must work and the environment in which they work

To be honest, it is a massive task!  All the time we have to consider all employers and payroll environments, always remembering that this is a level 3 apprenticeship.  Further, anything that we specify as a payroll KSB must be deliverable – there is no point putting together an apprenticeship that is so complicated that no training provider or employer will touch it.  So, we must balance our desire to be all-embracing with pragmatism.

Step-by-step, we are achieving these things, with the objective of building a payroll apprenticeship that works for our profession.  Like others on the group, I am acutely aware there are not enough young people coming into the profession and we face a very real resource crisis.  What we are working on is designed to be a programme that will build payroll professionals of the future, replacing those of us at the latter stages of our career (the author included!) and filling the skills and resource gap that is only just around the corner.

The future

Every step must be thorough and methodical.  Each payroll administrator KSB needs to be looked at and analysed carefully.  Patricia and I have to look at all of the comments from the employer group and take these on board or go back to the contributor.  As it is an employer-led exercise, it is important that we listen to and respect the view of all the employers involved.

Once the KSBs are in place, then we can revisit the Standard and make this suitable for employers, training providers, assessors and potential apprentices to read and use.  Then, we need to develop an Assessment Plan that will indicate how providers, assessors and employers can test that the learning outcomes have been achieved.

This is not going to be a 5-minute job.  However, bearing in mind that all this work is voluntary, all the members of the employer group are engaged with the concept and feel that it is the professionally-responsible thing to be devoting their time to.

We would hope that the Standard and Accompanying Assessment Plan are available for delivery later in 2017.  Personally, I am working with training providers and assessors to ensure that they are aware of development and can have an apprenticeship programme ready at a similar time.

In the meantime, if you have any questions at all about the apprenticeship, please do not hesitate to contact me at