The Payroll Apprenticeship

A stack of booksWe have a terrific skills and resource crisis in the payroll profession just around the corner.  Not enough people are coming into the profession, and payroll training does not always equip existing staff with the relevant skills.  Whilst they have always been a route into a career or used for career changes, apprenticeships have achieved a higher profile in recent months and years.


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 on-going 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, many organisations withdrew their apprenticeship programmes. Without an employer-led apprenticeship programme, unfortunately, this left the payroll profession without a route into it or for existing staff to progress within it.

This is where I come in as Chair for the development of the Payroll Administrator Standard and Assessment Plan for the payroll profession – in England.  The purpose of this blog is to provide an update to the payroll profession on progress.


A Trailblazer group was formed and progress was made to the point that a Standard was developed and approved for the profession.  Unfortunately, the group was unable to maintain its momentum and the previous Chair stepped down.  At this point, it is worth outlining the role of the Trailblazer group.

The Trailblazer Group

The Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) requires that apprenticeships are written by members of the profession to which the qualification relates.  This is known as a Trailblazer group.  These are people who, voluntarily, give up some of their time to devote their thoughts and ideas, based on a range of experiences and competencies that they have gained in their roles, past and present.


When I took over the role of Chair, I recognised that progress was not going to be made with the existing group and the way of working.  Further, I wanted a group which was truly representative of the depth and breadth of the profession.  So, I spent several months sourcing and building a Trailblazer group that was:

  • Motivated
  • All-embracing of my profession, and
  • Engaged in the belief that spending time on the apprenticeship was the professionally-responsible thing to be doing

The members of the previous group were invited to be in the new group, however, few took up the opportunity and some of those dropped out.  The group’s make-up can be seen on the IFA Website and it is the contributors from these companies that the payroll profession has to thank for the development of the apprenticeship. As you will be able to see, the group was truly representative of the payroll profession and encompassed all sectors – private, public, construction, education, retail, large, small, bureau operations etc. Further, it transpired that my role in motivating the group was played back and they motivated me to continue through a tough process.  I cannot thank the group and their employers enough for their contributions, plus my employer for allowing me the time to work on this for the benefit of the payroll profession.


Our task was to pick up on the work of the previous group, work with the information that we had inherited and progress the apprenticeship through to completion.  However, we soon realised that the work that had been done previously was not work that we were comfortable progressing.  The Standard had been approved, though we did not believe that this was suitable for the payroll profession.  So, I spoke with the Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) who confirmed it did not represent the depth and breadth of our profession.

So we started again!

2017 continued

Starting with a blank canvas allowed us the scope to create an apprenticeship truly fit for the payroll profession.  In this regard, there are two parts to the new employer-led apprenticeships, which is vastly different from the previous regime where apprenticeships were employer-designed:

  1. The Standard
  2. The Assessment Plan

The Standard

This is a high-level overview document that can be read by employers, potential apprentices and parents.  It states what the Payroll Administrator will be able to do at the end of the apprenticeship.  As UK payroll professionals know, work in our profession is so much more than just data entry and this document details all of the knowledge, skills and behaviours of a competent apprentice.

As I indicated above, when I took over as Chair, a Standard had been approved, however, the reformed employer group and I were unwilling to work with it as it was not considered suitable for the profession.  Therefore, the group spent much time leading the development of a document that was fit for the profession.  My role was to collate their thoughts and views and submit this to the IFA for approval.

At 9 am on 02 March 2018 (in National Apprenticeship Week), and just before I was speaking about the apprenticeship at the Global Payroll Association’s UK Summit, the group and I were delighted to receive formal confirmation that the IFA Board had approved the new Standard for the payroll profession. The IFA’s Website now shows the current Payroll Administrator Apprenticeship Standard.  It is a proud moment for me as Chair to have been part of replacing the previous Standard with one that is fit for publication and is fit for my profession.

The Assessment Plan

This is a detailed document that expands on the Standard significantly and advises an independent organisation how to assess whether the apprentice has come through the learning stage and has met the required level of competence.  The Assessment Plan analyses each element of the Standard and assigns learning outcomes for assessment.  These learning outcomes were agreed with the group as suitable for this level of apprenticeship.

I worked with independent assessment organisations, apprenticeship training organisations and the group in order to achieve three completely different assessment methods that were:

  1. Robust – i.e. could adequately assess whether the apprentice had achieved the learning outcomes
  2. Appropriate – i.e. appropriate for the payroll profession, and
  3. Deliverable – i.e. an independent assessment organisation was able to work with these robust and appropriate learning methods (there was no point developing something that was so robust and appropriate that it rendered assessment undeliverable)

After a long period of discussion, conversation and face-to-face meetings, I collated all of the learning outcomes and assessment methods into the Assessment Plan document.  This was submitted to the IFA on 28 February 2018 to go through their approvals process.

Quite understandably, I expect this process to be rigorous at every stage.  The Assessment Plan has been submitted but there is still the approvals process to get through before it is actually approved and published to make the whole apprenticeship ready for delivery.

2018 and beyond

The employer group has constructed really robust and appropriate learning outcomes in this apprenticeship. We have worked for the benefit of our profession, leading and promoting our profession and are proud to have come this far.

The work is not over and now it is about education and communication with some important messages:

  • The apprenticeship is a way for employers to utilise some of their Apprenticeship Levy funds
  • Apprenticeships of this kind are new, and employers need time to realise the benefits of using this for new employees and upskilling existing employees. That is important –  for employers to recognise that this apprenticeship qualification is as valid for upskilling as it is for new employees
  • This is a valid qualification in the UK payroll profession and that message needs to be sent to employers. Indeed, the group hopes that this will shape some of the existing qualifications that are available
  • This apprenticeship qualification is not based on an organisation having existing training material collated to form a qualification – it is based on what the Trailblazer group know is appropriate for the profession
  • We need to raise awareness of this apprenticeship and I am continuing to meet with apprenticeship training providers to ensure that they are ready to deliver this, if and when the Assessment Plan is approved. In this regard, I am so pleased with the engagement that I have received so far

The overall message is that this is a qualification that has been built by the profession specifically for the profession.

I will speak to anyone about this apprenticeship, so please do not hesitate to contact me at

Ian Holloway

By Ian Holloway - Guest Writer

Ian has experience of processing payrolls from all sectors, small, medium and large. His wide-ranging experience and up-to-date knowledge ensures he is able to impart this information to UK professionals through a range of written material, newsletters and face-to-face presentations. He is the Head of Legislation and Compliance at Cintra HR and Payroll Services and is the Chair of the Level 3 Payroll Administrator Apprenticeship. Ian kindly contributes articles in order to educate and communicate with UK HR and payroll professionals.