A tip of the cap to payroll

Survey results shed light on the skills needed for payroll practitioners

For a group of people responsible for handing out cheques for hard work, you’d think more people would take the time to shake a few hands and say a word of thanks to the payroll department.

But many employees — and employers — don’t realize that there is more to calculating and processing paycheques than meets the eye. After all, payroll practitioners are the folks who are responsible for compliance, government remittances, pensions and benefits and legislative monitoring for impacts to payroll. Now in its 10th year, National Payroll Week (Sept. 13-17) celebrates the contributions of payroll professionals who keep Canada paid — today, tomorrow and every payday.

Payroll practitioners on behalf of the Canadian employer community annually make more than $180 billion in payroll remittances to the Canada Revenue Agency and Quebec’s revenue ministry and produce more than 21 million T4s and Rl-1s utilized as part of the tax administration functions which allow Canadian workers to settle up their personal tax liability.

Those remittances total about two-thirds of all government revenue in Canada. That’s why payroll professionals are part of Canada’s economic backbone. They keep Canada paid — employees through paycheques, businesses through ensuring compliance and federal and provincial governments through payroll remittances.

Within most organizations, payroll practitioners are responsible for filing remittances for Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan, income taxes and other federal and provincial remittances and reports such as the record of employment. Payroll professionals also co-ordinate the disbursement of payroll withholdings such as savings plans, insurance, disability and medical benefit claims, company pension plans, union benefits and group RRSPs.

Skills required for payroll

Last year the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) conducted a survey of 1,900 members and non-members and 1,450 employers to assess the skills and competencies required by payroll professionals. The results paint a picture of what a payroll practitioner looks like.

Who are payroll professionals? Payroll is still predominantly a female career choice with the majority (88 per cent) of payroll professionals being female. Most payroll practitioners are between the ages of 31 and 40 (30 per cent) and 41 to 50 (41 per cent).

Many payroll professionals have achieved some level of post-secondary education with 44 per cent having completed college and almost 25 per cent having completed university. On average payroll practitioners have been working in payroll for eight years and have been at their current position for slightly more than five years.

Who do payroll professionals work for? Payroll practitioners work for a variety of small to large organizations. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) work for organizations with 500 employees or less. The remainder work for organizations with more than 500 employees. Of these, 11 per cent work for companies with more than 1,000 employees and five per cent with more than 5,000 employees. These organizations cover a wide range of industries including manufacturing, financial services, government, not-for-profit, health, education, retail, technology, transportation and trade. More than 95 per cent of these organizations have pensions and benefit plans of which nearly three quarters are administered by payroll professionals.

Who does payroll report to? The majority of payroll practitioners (65 per cent) report to the accounting or finance department. But as an organization increases in size, the number of payroll practitioners reporting to the HR department also increases.

What are the top skills payroll professionals need? Payroll practices knowledge is the number one skill required to successfully perform the payroll function. Payroll practices knowledge can be defined as the combination of technical, administrative, co-ordination and analytical duties related to the payroll function.

These duties can include verifying and reconciling payroll records, calculating earnings and deductions, responding to employee or customer enquiries, preparing and confirming payroll forms and documentation, liaising with payroll outsource services or software suppliers and developing payroll policies for management. The majority of employers selected this skill 96 per cent of the time, while practitioners themselves selected payroll practices knowledge more than 90 per cent of the time. (For more information, see the chart on page G3 of the print version of the Sept. 13, 2004, Guide to Payroll.)

Wendy McLean is the manager of marketing and communication for the Canadian Payroll Association. For more information on National Payroll Week, visit www.npw-snp.ca.

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