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Apprenticeship Service

Automating payments to apprentices on behalf of employers

Project: Integration of Technical Solutions

We designed, delivered and run an automated payments service paying 1900 providers £1.96 billion a year for training delivered to apprentices on behalf of employers.


The Apprenticeship Payments system calculates funding to be paid to training providers monthly, for all apprenticeship training in England. An existing service was built to calculate payments based on data for apprentices that employers have agreed to train, employer levy accounts for large employers and data submitted by the provider. The existing service is running on old technology which is out of support and the payments process run is a long manual process. The Apprenticeship Service were looking for a partner with experience in payments services and­ a key focus on user needs and making policy digital. Talent Consulting were hired in 2017 to move the current service to a new infrastructure, automate the payments process, improve the accuracy of payments, and run the new live service.


Understanding the current service and payments process

We undertook research workshops with users across the service including data collections, contracts service, payments, and finance, documenting the current process to identify existing failures, gaps and areas for improvement. Using methods such as story mapping, process flows, interviewing and group workshops to identify user needs and behaviour to underpin and drive design decisions whilst ensuring they aligned to the business KPI’s. This allowed the team to identify pain points and design solutions to resolve problems and improve the service.

Visualising stories against the service process

Identifying problems

When running monthly payment calculations, the existing service was outside of the business KPIs, taking 15 hours on average to complete over 30 manual steps, making it prone to error. This delays the end-to-end ESFA payments process and risks payments to providers being incorrect and late. In addition, the service was running out of support infrastructure, putting at risk the infrastructure and payments process as a whole.

Collaborative working

The team collaborated to develop an automated service to it met user needs, business goals and was technically feasible.  Technical architecture diagrams and automated flow charts were created to identify solutions and inform a delivery plan. Weekly workshops were conducted with the wider team and stakeholders to ensure solutions aligned across the process and to co-ordinate end-to-end build and testing. During the pandemic, the team quickly adapted to using online tools to minimise disruption – continuing to hold weekly workshops and daily stand-ups remotely.

Delivery challenges

Whilst moving the service onto the new technology stack it was essential the existing service still ran the monthly payments service to providers. Our end-to-end technical design thinking enabled us to interactively move the service in sections without disrupting the live service. Once we had secured the service on the new technology the team moved to focus on the automation of the process and increasing the accuracy of payments.

Running a live service

Once live, alerts and dashboards were used to monitor the services. For example, an alert was raised with the performance of the database, and our data dashboards were used to identify a problem with data storage. The issue was addressed by changing the design to store and cache data in the service without impacting the performance of the live service.

Monitoring the service and predicating the accuracy of payments in advance

Developing people

We included an apprentice developer into the team upskilling and mentoring internal capability within the service. The developer has passed his exams and is now a full-time developer in the payments team supporting the live service in business as usual.


As of today, the payments service is live and support by the payments team as part of business-as-usual activity. The service is automated end-to-end and completes in 3.5 hours , making on average a payment of £165m each month with an accuracy average of 99.99%. The service is now supported by a dashboard to show live data and predict the accuracy of payments throughout the month and identify providers with payment issues in advance. This enables them to correct their data before the payment process runs, reducing the number of support calls.


Training providers paid through the service


Paid monthly


Accuracy (Increased from 99.93%)

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Talent have provided digital outcomes through agile development for ESFA since 2017. Talent International have been a reliable partner who have helped deliver a number of key projects within tight deadlines, including “Find an Apprenticeship”, “Find Apprenticeship Training” and supporting payments functionality. Talent have collaborated with the department and other suppliers to achieve these outcomes. Talent have focused on delivery and working as one team to achieve user and business outcomes.

- Gary Tucker, Head of Digital, ESFA

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