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From Adaptation to Innovation: New Career Paths for BCBAs Emerging from the Pandemic

The global pandemic has irrevocably altered the professional landscape, catalyzing profound shifts in work modalities and prompting a reevaluation of career trajectories across all sectors. For BCBAs, this evolution is no less significant. We find ourselves at a juncture where traditional practices are being reassessed, and the allure of entrepreneurship is burgeoning. Here, we will explore how the terrain of our profession has been reshaped in the wake of COVID-19 and what implications these changes bear for us as practitioners.

Post-pandemic, many of you have borne witness to a paradigm shift in how services are delivered, with a palpable trend toward self-employment and remote work as professionals are drawn to taking control of their time and career. There is growing conversation around the necessity of establishing independent practice—a feat that is complex but promises control, flexibility, and the innovation of service delivery.

Factors Contributing to the “Great Resignation”

Mainstream media, including CBS News, have discussed the phenomena of burnout and career pivots, phenomena that are not alien to the healthcare community. Data from professional networks and the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE) illustrate the concerning turnover rates among healthcare workers, compelling us to scrutinize our current operational models and consider transformative approaches to our profession.

The Great Resignation is a term coined by CBS News to describe the mass exodus of workers from their jobs in 2020. The term was first used in an article published on June 26, 2020, which noted that more than 4 million Americans had quit their jobs since February of that year. The article also noted that this trend was not limited to one industry or region but rather affected all sectors of the economy.

The impact on the field of ABA has been significant, with many providers reporting that they are struggling to find qualified staff to fill open positions. This has led some organizations to consider alternative models of service delivery such as telehealth and remote supervision. ABA is a field that relies heavily on the expertise of its practitioners, and the loss of so many experienced professionals has created a void in our ability to provide quality services to those who need them.

The Great Resignation has also led to an increase in demand for ABA services, which has further strained our already limited resources. Many practitioners are leaving the field to pursue other careers or are simply retiring. The Great Resignation is a symptom of larger problems within our society that needs to be addressed if we are going to continue providing high-quality care for autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities.

Learn more about why BCBAs are leaving the field in our post: What is driving BCBAs from the field of ABA?

The Shift Towards Remote Work

USA Today has published an article in January 2022 that highlights the growing trend of people choosing to work remotely. This preference underscores the importance of adapting to new methodologies of service provision. The pivot to remote work, initially born out of necessity, has demonstrated substantial benefits, including but not limited to, reduced travel time and increased efficiency. The behavior analysis community has experienced this firsthand as telehealth solutions have broadened the reach of services. The shift towards remote work is not only a trend, but also an opportunity for behavior analysts to expand their reach. The ability to provide services via telehealth has allowed for increased access and convenience, which in turn has led to more people seeking treatment. This trend will continue as technology continues to improve and become more widely available.

The Desire for Work-Life Balance

A threshold has been crossed, revealing a collective apprehension around reverting to pre-pandemic work hours. Alternative engagements like contract work or digital entrepreneurship offer viable options that align with the pursuit of a balanced life. The autonomy in designing one’s schedule can lead to improved job satisfaction and personal wellbeing, which is not only desirable but essential for maintaining the quality of care we provide.

The desire for work-life balance is not new, but it has become more pronounced in recent years. The rise of the gig economy and remote work has made it easier for people to find alternative ways to earn money while still maintaining a flexible schedule. This trend toward the gig economy has given people the ability to design their own schedules, which can lead to improved job satisfaction and personal wellbeing. This trend will continue as technology continues to improve and become more widely available.

Are you ready to dive into entrepreneurship or at least considering dipping your toe in? Check out our program, The Balanced BCBA where we teach you how to take control of your career. We pull back the curtain and reveal how we built Master ABA so that you have a well-worn path to follow. We take the guess work out of starting an information or consulting business. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity!

Are you balanced? Working remotely as a BCBA

The Financial Benefits of Embracing Remote Work

In dissecting the economic landscape of remote work, we recognize significant potential for reducing overhead costs within our practices. The shift toward remote service delivery, catalyzed by the necessity for physical distancing, revealed an underlying capacity for optimizing our expense structures for ABA businesses, but also for BCBAs.

Learn more about how BCBAs can earn more money and have a greater impact through entrepreneurship in our post: Why Should BCBAs Start a Side Hustle: Unlocking Extra Income and Opportunities.

Overhead Reduction

Conventionally, a considerable portion of an ABA business’s expenses comprises physical space costs – rent, utilities, maintenance, and property insurance or travel expenses for home-based businesses. Pivot to a remote model, and these fixed expenses dissipate, substituted by the virtual domain’s more predictable and often lesser costs. It is essential to measure these potential savings against the initial investment and running costs that remote infrastructure might necessitate—such as secure telehealth platforms, robust internet service, and client data protection measures.

Resource Optimization

Moving forward, remote work allows for a more dynamic allocation of resources. Materials often employed in direct care settings can transition to virtual analogs. Consider, for instance, the use of digital reinforcement schedules or online assessments. The systematic reduction in physical materials not only trims costs but also supports a sustainable practice by minimizing consumables.

Travel and Time Savings

The substantial reduction in travel time for both practitioners and clients further underscores the cost-efficiency of remote work. For BCBAs, this translates to more time that can be dedicated to client sessions, supervision, continuing education, or self-care—all vital components for maintaining a high standard of practice. For clients, it could mean better access to services without the barrier of transportation costs and time.

Alternative Service Models

Beyond direct therapy, remote work broadens the scope for innovation in service delivery models. Group parent training sessions, workshops for other professionals, and virtual consultation services are just a few examples where remote work can extend our reach while conserving financial resources. These models often require less financial outlay than in-person counterparts while having the potential for a wider impact.

The Potential for Collaborative Business Models

Exploring cooperative business models, where professional responsibilities are pooled among BCBAs, could be a vital strategy in distributing the workload effectively while maximizing impact. Further, partnerships with individuals well-versed in business management could supplement our expertise in behavior analysis, creating robust and multidisciplinary teams.

This approach would allow us to focus on our core competencies while leveraging the skills of others. It could also help us build a more sustainable business model that is less reliant on individual practitioners and more focused on the needs of our clients. This could be particularly beneficial in the area of business development, where BCBAs may not have the necessary skills or experience to effectively manage a company. By partnering with individuals who are well-versed in business management, we can create robust and multidisciplinary teams that will be better equipped to address the challenges facing our field.

The potential for collaborative business models is great, but it will require a shift in the way we think about our profession. We must be willing to share responsibility and work together as a team, rather than viewing ourselves as independent contractors who are solely responsible for their own success.

Rethinking Service Delivery Models

Direct care, while invaluable, presents challenges that are accentuated in today’s climate. By expanding modalities to include parent training or personnel coaching within educational or daycare environments, BCBAs can create diverse, scalable, and potentially more sustainable service offerings.

As we move through these changes, it is important to see them as opportunities for growth. Embracing these evolving dynamics is paramount in fostering an ecosystem where BCBAs can thrive professionally while upholding the ethical and effective practice of behavior analysis.

Embracing the Checkpoint Principle in the Evolution of ABA Careers

In the realm of ABA, BCBAs are accustomed to the application of systematic and analytical methodologies to facilitate meaningful behavioral change. It is within this context that the checkpoint principle, as described by Ozan Varol through the metaphor of video gaming, offers an interesting perspective on career development and personal growth for BCBAs.

Varol’s recounting of his video gaming experiences in the 90s and the enduring lesson of the checkpoint principle provides a compelling framework for understanding our professional journeys. The principle posits that, much like in a video game, reaching a certain milestone allows one to save progress, offering a form of resilience against future unpredictability. This concept serves as an allegory for career management, where each BCBA’s path can be seen as adaptable rather than fixed, capable of iteration and redirection without the necessity of starting from zero.

Applying the Principle

For BCBAs, applying the checkpoint principle involves a conscious recognition of the reversible nature of career decisions. This understanding is fundamentally empowering, offering assurance that exploration beyond traditional roles or settings—whether through engagement in research, consultation outside of typical clinical contexts, or even entrepreneurship—is not inherently irrevocable. The strategic emphasis is on maintaining professional networks and credibility, thus “saving progress,” which ensures a safety net for potential return or change in direction.

Impact on Professional Growth

This paradigm encourages a proactive approach to career development, viewing each exploration as an opportunity to augment one’s skill set and perspective. When a BCBA considers expanding their professional repertoire, they do so recognizing that each endeavor, successful or otherwise, enriches their professional identity and broadens their capacity for impact within the field of ABA.

Navigational Strategies:

  1. Reflection and Planning: Regularly assess personal and professional growth goals, and identify potential “checkpoints” that align with these objectives.
  2. Networking and Connection: Engage with a diverse range of professionals within and adjacent to the field of ABA, ensuring a robust support network for guidance and potential re-orientation.
  3. Documentation of Achievements: Maintain a comprehensive record of skills, accomplishments, and lessons learned to facilitate transitions and to articulate the value of diverse experiences.

Varol’s checkpoint principle, is resonant with the journey of a BCBA in the ever-evolving landscape of ABA. It invites a reimagining of career trajectories as dynamic and adaptable expeditions, where uncertainty is reframed as a canvas for growth and exploration. By adopting this mindset, BCBAs can navigate their professional paths with confidence, curiosity, and a readiness to embrace change, thereby fostering not only personal development but also advancing the practice of behavior analysis in innovative directions.

In the words of T.S. Eliot, the culmination of our explorations, replete with returns and new departures, enriches our understanding of our professional identities and the broader field of ABA. It is in recognizing the importance of the checkpoint — the saved progress and the bridges unburned — that we find the freedom to explore, to grow, and ultimately, to flourish.

The journey ahead beckons for an open dialogue on entrepreneurship and the collective reimagination of our work. It is a time for ingenuity, collaboration, and a forward-looking ethos that embraces the possibilities that the changing landscape of work offers. Let this exploration serve as a clarion call to all within the behavioral analysis community to participate in shaping a future that honors our commitment to ethical practice, professional fulfillment, and service excellence.

Are you ready to explore the different ways you can put your experience and expertise to work for you? Read our post: Unlocking Financial Freedom: 14 Income-Boosting Ideas for BCBAs beyond Client Hours.

References and Related Reading

Behavioral Health Center of Excellence. (2021). 2021 ABA Compensation & Turnover Report.

Davidson, P. (2022, January 4). Great Resignation: The number of people quitting jobs hit an all-time high in November as openings stayed near record. USA TODAY. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2022/01/04/great-resignation-number-people-quitting-jobs-hit-record/9083256002/

Murphy, B., Jr. (2021, December 5). New data finally shows why people are quitting their jobs. It’s definitely not because they’re lazy. Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/new-data-finally-shows-why-people-are-quitting-their-jobs-its-definitely-not-because-theyre-lazy.html

Rosalsky, G. (2021, October 19). Why are so many Americans quitting their jobs? NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2021/10/19/1047032996/why-are-so-many-americans-quitting-their-jobs

Varol, O. (2023, May 9). The game-changing trick for facing uncertainty. Ozan Varol. https://ozanvarol.com/the-game-changing-trick-for-facing-uncertainty/

Whitaker, B. (2022, January 10). The Great Resignation: Why more Americans are quitting their jobs than ever before – 60 Minutes. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/great-resignation-60-minutes-2022-01-10/

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