Payroll Career Paths

One of the primary aims of NZPPA since 2007 is to develop payroll as a profession in New Zealand. NZPPA sees payroll as a career in its own right – not part of Human Resources (HR) or Accounting but a rewarding and challenging career in PAYROLL!

Payroll itself does not often get to sit in its own department but usually will come under Finance or HR. Technically, and the most logical fit, is for payroll to sit under Finance as payroll in its purest form is a function of accounting. This is because payroll is managing the largest and if not, then the second largest cost a business has, which is labour cost. If the business is large, then it can be justified to have dedicated HR staff and this is when payroll may report to and come under the HR function.

The nature of work that a payroll practitioner undertakes, multi-skilled as it is, provides a range of opportunities that can see them move from payroll into either accounting or HR roles, but the focus of the NZPPA payroll career path model is to promote payroll as a lifelong career. We want people to stay in payroll and from their experience, knowledge and skills grow payroll as a recognised profession and a real career choice for future job seekers.

Where is payroll processed?

There are many different types of payroll environments, but NZPPA sees payroll fitting into three broad areas:

  1. in-house processed payroll (sole charge)

  2. in-house processed payroll (team)

  3. outsourced payroll. 

1. In-house processed payroll (sole charge) 

The majority of payroll is processed under the sole charge payroll practitioner model either in a part-time payroll role where payroll is one of a number of tasks undertaken on behalf of the business (e.g. Accounts, HR, OSH etc.) or on a full-time sole charge basis. These types of payroll practitioners are the backbone of the payroll industry. They are usually the only person that know payroll within their business, but they still need to know all the legislation, rules and practice required to run their payroll so employees are paid on time and correctly. This can also include the sole charge payroll practitioner that consolidates payroll data to send off to an outsourced payroll provider and the subsequent checking of payroll data after it has been processed. 

2. In-house processed payroll (team) 

For a medium to large organisation with a complex industrial relations structure and or large workforce, payroll can evolve into having a payroll team to support the payroll function. The team can be two or more payroll practitioners and the larger the team, more distinct payroll positions can be present from generalist payroll roles through to specialist and payroll management providing leadership to the payroll team. 

3. Outsourced payroll 

A large and growing sector in the payroll industry is outsourced payroll. For payroll practitioners working within an outsourced payroll they will have different challenges from their in-house counterparts with less information to access, but with the added objective of processing multiple payrolls for small to very large employers at the same time, setting up and configuring payroll to meet clients’ needs, managing clients’ questions and maintaining relationships with them.

Payroll Career Paths Model

Aligning the three types of payroll environments with the types of positions found in payroll along with NZPPA certification can be hard but please use the following link to see the NZPPA model.

To access the Payroll Career Paths model diagram click here.

Difference in payroll environments

The career paths for payroll have been stated as fitting into three broad payroll environments, but even within these environments there can be vast differences and these need to be understood as well. Payroll can be simple or complex and this also impacts on the skills development of payroll practitioners. A simple payroll could mean that all employees are always paid the same amount every pay period without variation (such as an employee on a salary). A complex payroll could be when employees’ earnings are based on a complex set of rules that comes from their employment agreements and could see pay changing each pay period.

Technology is another area that impacts on the type of work the payroll practitioner does in payroll. A basic payroll could see the payroll practitioner having to do manual activities in payroll, whereas a payroll that is embedded with a range of technology tools could see most of the payroll being automated. In both types of payroll, the payroll practitioner still has to understand how their payroll is being processed and calculated.

Developing a full and challenging career in payroll

To develop a full and challenging career in payroll, a payroll practitioner should aim to experience the different payroll environments as they progress in their careers with their knowledge and skills gained in the payroll positions they have held.

Payroll career paths and the NZPPA certification levels

To fit with the different paths a payroll practitioner can take based on their payroll environment, NZPPA has developed four certification levels. The certification levels can be accessed from the NZPPA website under the NZPPA training menu, but on the career path diagram each position stated has been linked to the appropriate certification level.

NZPPA certification levels

Certification type

Certification description

Career path positions

Certified Payroll Technician –CPT (Entry)

Can run basic payroll processing steps, under supervision or within their prescribed authority.

  • Payroll Coordinator for outsourced payroll (PT-FT) – In-house

  • Payroll Coordinator/Administrator (FT)(Team) – In-house

  • Payroll Officer (outsourced processing multiple payrolls) – Outsourced

Certified Payroll Practitioner – CPP (Intermediate)

Can run a payroll end to end to an intermediate level under supervision or within their prescribed authority*.

  • Payroll Officer (FT)(Sole Charge) – In-house

  • Payroll Officer (PT)(Sole Charge) – In-house

  • Payroll Officer (FT)(Team) – In-house

  • Payroll Helpdesk (FT) – Outsourced

Certified Payroll Consultant – CPC (Advanced)

Can implement and configure payroll processes and payroll system criteria and resolve complex payroll issues*.

  • Payroll Advisor/Consultant (FT) – In-house

  • Specialist positions: System or REM (FT) – In-house

  • Implementation Consultant (FT) – Outsourced

Certified Payroll Manager – CPM (Leadership)

Meets all the requirements set under the previous certification levels (CPT, CPP and CPC) and leads and manages staff in a payroll environment.

  • Payroll Manager (FT) – In house or outsourced

  • Payroll Team Leader/Supervisor (FT) – In house or outsourced

*Prescribed authority is what has been defined by the business (in-house or if an outsourced supplier of payroll services)

Key: PT = Part Time, FT = Full Time.