In the interests of full disclosure, I am in no way neutral when it comes to Payroll Congress. In fact, I attended my first American Payroll Association (APA) Congress in San Francisco in 1988. I have not missed one since, and I do not intend to miss any in the future.

The importance of attending Payroll Congress is centered in the reasons for the forming of the Association, now PayrollOrg. For most of us in the payroll profession, it was not a specific choice to start in as a career. We may have started in other general business roles like bookkeeping, finance, or human resources. Personally, I was a cashier in a small retail store and was assigned payroll as a task because I was “good with numbers.” We may have learned as we went along by following instructions from the organization’s management—who were rarely payroll experts—and some of the instruction we received was often inadequate or just wrong.

PayrollOrg was founded by members in the payroll field to form a network of support and to establish a resource for sharing timely, compliant information in various aspects of payroll. This was a start in helping to fill in the significant holes in our knowledge and experience. The very first Payroll Congress, held in San Antonio in 1983, was built on that foundation by offering educational workshops, networking opportunities, and related resources. Although I had passed the exam and was officially a Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) in 1987, I was astounded when I went in 1988 by the level of information and educational opportunities offered and by encountering the reality and welcoming of a payroll community.

I was so surprised during my first Congress to find such a level of welcome and friendly outreach that I did not feel like a stranger for long. One of the veteran members told me that attending Congress was “like attending a reunion where you actually like the people” and he was right. It is a feeling shared by many of us, and we hope it resonates with new participants, too.

The annual Congresses have continued to grow and expand over the more than 40 years to help our profession deal with extended regulatory complexity, technological advances, professional development, analytical needs, increased global interaction, and the need for a vital payroll community.

The importance of attending our annual Payroll Congress is still focused on the needs of, and the solutions to, the challenges our profession has by addressing core concepts, which include the following:

  • Education and training at all levels from basic to the advanced and advancing. The fundamental courses such as taxable and nontaxable fringe benefits (“cash is cash and cash is taxable”), garnishments, internal controls, reporting, etc. are always offered as foundational for new attendees and as refreshers and updates for those not so new. Advanced workshop sessions and new ones are added or expanded regularly as technology, processes, regulations, and business needs evolve and change.
  • Professional and personal development workshops that focus on topics including management skills, interpersonal skills, speaking and presentation skills, business cases, and related topics can help us in multiple work and personal situations.
  • Expert speakers and presenters of the workshop sessions include payroll professionals, subject matter experts from various fields, and government or agency representatives who can provide the levels of information and guidance we want and need.
  • The payroll community itself provides benefits at multiple levels starting with a sense of personal connection and the expertise members are willing to share outside of the formal workshops. Conversations at a table with a diverse group of individuals can result in entertaining conversations and serious solutions. Opportunities to engage more deeply as volunteers and active members are encouraged. Local payroll chapters provide hospitality and a chance to share their activities. Participants at their first Payroll Congress have a red dot on their badges that identifies them as first-timers and will find themselves very welcomed.
  • Recognition of the contributions of members and partners have always been part of Payroll Congress and can be both inspiring and motivating.
  • Vendor participation and engagement in Payroll Congress activities has expanded over the years and their sponsorship, activities, and product information are added resources. Product giveaways, prize drawings, and entertaining events have added a level of fun to Payroll Congress.
  • Recertification credit hours (RCH) for both the CPP and FPC designations are another major benefit because the credits are substantial. Participation in workshops and other events can earn more than 20 RCH credits for a single Payroll Congress and if Virtual Congress is also attended later on, well that counts, too.

The most important reasons, however, for attending the annual Payroll Congresses are to find your own needs and values satisfied and to ensure your interest in your role as a payroll professional increases. We have a meaningful, critical role in our organizations even if the only ones who recognize that are our payroll colleagues and friends. I hope to see you at our next Payroll Congress in May in Nashville.

Gretchen Inouye, CPP, is Payroll Manager at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and PayrollOrg’s 2015 Payroll Woman of the Year. She is a volunteer for PayrollOrg’s Board of Contributing Writers, the Ask an Expert Committee, and the National Speakers Bureau. She is also a member of PayrollOrg’s Southern Nevada Chapter.