The Payroll Administrator Apprenticeship by Kate Upcraft

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 are vital to deal with the resourcing issues in this area as many payroll specialists are nearing retirement age.

The government’s 2014 Autumn Statement pledged to create up to 3 million more apprentices by 2020. Of course skills training is a devolved policy, so the 2014 announcement actually meant the creation of 3 million apprenticeships in England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own existing skills programmes).

Since 2014, we’ve also seen the introduction of the apprenticeship levy from April 2017, and the transition from employer-designed specification of apprenticeship standards for England (SASE) to employer-led Trailblazer Standards and Assessment Plans adhering to strict guidelines.

The move away from SASE has meant that many representative bodies have withdrawn their apprenticeship programmes and have had to rewrite their standards. This has left the payroll profession without any recognised apprenticeship programme in place.

The Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA) (who assumed responsibility for standards from the DfE) confirmed that the payroll SASE did not represent the depth and breadth of the payroll  profession.  So, a new employer group was formed that I’m pleased to be a part of, which will create a new standard and an accompanying assessment plan. It will be a level 3 apprenticeship.

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, both from the private and public sector.  Plus, the group comprises of individuals from software companies, payroll bureau operations, consultants and industry specialists.

The group has begun by developing a set of knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) that we believe are applicable to a level 3 apprentice.  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, and 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, along with 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.

Step-by-step, we are achieving these things, with the objective of building a payroll apprenticeship that works for our profession.  We know that resources like the Payroll Management Handbook (Bloomsbury Professional) will play a key role in equipping apprentices with the core knowledge that they need for a career in payroll.

All the employers and agents in the group are acutely aware that 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.

We would hope that the standard and accompanying assessment plan are available for delivery later in 2017.

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


Kate Upcraft is co-author of Payroll Management Handbook (Bloomsbury Professional). For more information, visit:



Written by Ellie MacKenzie

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