Ask the Expert: Why is apprenticeship not linked to qualifications? Ask the Expert: Why is apprenticeship not linked to qualifications?

Ask the Expert: Why is apprenticeship not linked to qualifications?
19 Dec 2018
Q. We are about to take on our first payroll apprentice but wondered why no professional qualification is being offered as part of the apprenticeship? Surely this would make it more appealing to both employers and employees?

 

Firstly, I hope that the apprenticeship works well for you and thank you for being one of the first employers to embrace it. Apprenticeships are certainly expected to be the learning route of the future both into, and upwards through, payroll, and other, professions because they equip participants with three key things: 

  1. The knowledge required to do the job, such as calculating income tax, understanding Benefits-in-Kind, UK devolution and the like;
  2. The skills needed to do the job, such as planning and prioritising workloads, analysing data rather than just taking it at face value and communicating with people both inside and outside the organisation;
  3. The behaviours required of someone doing the job, such as being adaptable, proactive and working with professional scepticism.

Secondly, to address your question directly, I must counter it with another question: ‘What do you mean by a professional qualification?’ I presume you are referring to something that is marketed as a qualification in England to enable payroll professionals to reach level three, that offers them an advantage over other workers, provides letters after their name and the like.

So by way of response, it is necessary to point out that apprenticeships are employer-designed by Trailblazer groups, which know through direct experience what is most appropriate for the profession. When development began, the payroll Trailblazer group looked very hard at what qualifications were available to establish if the apprenticeship – or at least parts of it - should be aligned to any of them. For example, should studying for xx qualification give an exemption from certain parts of the apprenticeship as it covers the same learning outcomes? 

But on evaluating the market, we were surprised at just how many widely differing qualifications there were, ranging from certificates for two or three days’ study to others covering weeks or years. There were also qualifications from a number of bodies that we had never heard of.

Lack of industry-wide benchmark

All of them focused on the ‘knowledge’ element of the equation, even if they had different views as to what relevant topics should look like. Only a few took into account the ‘skills’ and ‘behaviour’ pieces though, which are just as important to payroll professionals.

As a result of this research, we came to the conclusion that it was not worth even attempting to align the payroll apprenticeship with any of these commercial qualifications. We did not want to be constrained by conforming to what was already available. Instead we were keen to concentrate on what was most appropriate for the profession. 

While this situation is not true of all occupations, such as accountancy, where the profession boasts industry-recognised qualifications that are benchmarks of competence, we could find no industry-recognised benchmark in the payroll sector at all.

Therefore, because the payroll apprenticeship is a professional qualification, it is our hope that commercial qualifications will in future align with it rather than the other way around – although we recognise that buying into this situation will require a change of mind-set from both employers and individuals. But in the brave, new world outlined, commercial qualification providers could offer ‘credits’ if individuals attain specified learning outcomes while undertaking their payroll apprenticeship.

It should be noted, however, that the above does not mean there is no place for commercial qualifications at all. Employers should absolutely have the choice as to whether they want an employee to study with this or that organisation, and whether they would prefer to pay out of their own funds or use the Apprenticeship Levy. The apprenticeship professional qualification and commercial qualifications, meanwhile, can all happily operate side-by-side as the market is big enough to accommodate all of them.

 Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway is head of legislation and compliance at Cintra HR and Payroll Services. He was involved in processing payrolls large and small from organisations across all sectors until 2011 when he started helping to educate the profession by developing course material, newsletters and face-to-face presentations.

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Q. We are about to take on our first payroll apprentice but wondered why no professional qualification is being offered as part of the apprenticeship? Surely this would make it more appealing to both employers and employees?

 

Firstly, I hope that the apprenticeship works well for you and thank you for being one of the first employers to embrace it. Apprenticeships are certainly expected to be the learning route of the future both into, and upwards through, payroll, and other, professions because they equip participants with three key things: 

  1. The knowledge required to do the job, such as calculating income tax, understanding Benefits-in-Kind, UK devolution and the like;
  2. The skills needed to do the job, such as planning and prioritising workloads, analysing data rather than just taking it at face value and communicating with people both inside and outside the organisation;
  3. The behaviours required of someone doing the job, such as being adaptable, proactive and working with professional scepticism.

Secondly, to address your question directly, I must counter it with another question: ‘What do you mean by a professional qualification?’ I presume you are referring to something that is marketed as a qualification in England to enable payroll professionals to reach level three, that offers them an advantage over other workers, provides letters after their name and the like.

So by way of response, it is necessary to point out that apprenticeships are employer-designed by Trailblazer groups, which know through direct experience what is most appropriate for the profession. When development began, the payroll Trailblazer group looked very hard at what qualifications were available to establish if the apprenticeship – or at least parts of it - should be aligned to any of them. For example, should studying for xx qualification give an exemption from certain parts of the apprenticeship as it covers the same learning outcomes? 

But on evaluating the market, we were surprised at just how many widely differing qualifications there were, ranging from certificates for two or three days’ study to others covering weeks or years. There were also qualifications from a number of bodies that we had never heard of.

Lack of industry-wide benchmark

All of them focused on the ‘knowledge’ element of the equation, even if they had different views as to what relevant topics should look like. Only a few took into account the ‘skills’ and ‘behaviour’ pieces though, which are just as important to payroll professionals.

As a result of this research, we came to the conclusion that it was not worth even attempting to align the payroll apprenticeship with any of these commercial qualifications. We did not want to be constrained by conforming to what was already available. Instead we were keen to concentrate on what was most appropriate for the profession. 

While this situation is not true of all occupations, such as accountancy, where the profession boasts industry-recognised qualifications that are benchmarks of competence, we could find no industry-recognised benchmark in the payroll sector at all.

Therefore, because the payroll apprenticeship is a professional qualification, it is our hope that commercial qualifications will in future align with it rather than the other way around – although we recognise that buying into this situation will require a change of mind-set from both employers and individuals. But in the brave, new world outlined, commercial qualification providers could offer ‘credits’ if individuals attain specified learning outcomes while undertaking their payroll apprenticeship.

It should be noted, however, that the above does not mean there is no place for commercial qualifications at all. Employers should absolutely have the choice as to whether they want an employee to study with this or that organisation, and whether they would prefer to pay out of their own funds or use the Apprenticeship Levy. The apprenticeship professional qualification and commercial qualifications, meanwhile, can all happily operate side-by-side as the market is big enough to accommodate all of them.

 Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway is head of legislation and compliance at Cintra HR and Payroll Services. He was involved in processing payrolls large and small from organisations across all sectors until 2011 when he started helping to educate the profession by developing course material, newsletters and face-to-face presentations.

OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

UK's first payroll apprenticeship is approved

UK employers welcome proposed changes to apprenticeship levy

Number of UK apprenticeship starts falls dramatically