Leading the way in traffic safety

By Cheryl Long

ATS Traffic

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It’s such a part of everyday life that we hardly even notice anymore. Whether it’s a flashing message board warning us of highway lane closures or a flagger controlling traffic as it moves through a construction zone, traffic safety goes hand in hand with the construction carried out seemingly year-round across the country.

ATS Traffic is one of the leaders in the industry, providing traffic control equipment, implementation and installation services to both the public and private sectors. Serving municipalities, construction sites and resource-based industries across Western Canada, ATS is the country’s largest 3M™ certified sign fabricator and has been offering a range of traffic control services, from planning to execution, since its launch in 1966.

Jeff Calibaba was a consultant for the company for three-and-half years and then took on the role of COO in January 2015. While they do have one sales representative in Ontario, the bulk of the company’s business happens in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Founded in Edmonton 50 years ago by Lorne Hooper, the family-run, privately-held business now has Lorne’s son, Laine, at the helm as CEO and supports a staff ranging from 275 to 300 with numbers at their peak during the construction season. Laine has been taking the company in a new strategic direction since he took on the CEO position, Calibaba said, which includes rebranding the company under the ATS Traffic umbrella.

More than 15,000 traffic products

The company has three primary services, he explained. Along with manufacturing traffic signs out of three plants, they specialize in the resale of traffic products — the company sells over 15,000 items — and also provide on-street services where traffic technicians deliver traffic control equipment, set up construction zones and even stay on site if needed. The latter service is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the event of emergencies like watermain breaks or spills. The business is a steady one, less affected by the recent economic downturn than other companies across Canada since provincial and federal governments continue to invest in infrastructure and construction carries out in many communities.

The ongoing efforts of ATS were recognized earlier this year when the company was named to the prestigious Canada’s Best Managed Companies list for 2015. A first-time entrant, ATS joined the roster of accomplished businesses on their first try. “We were surprised that we were able to win that at our first go-round,” Calibaba said. But as a company, they’ve been working hard to innovate and improve in many areas of their operation.

Three years ago, five ATS buildings were consolidated under one roof. With the help of a Lean Consultant, they were able to reduce product delivery times from four to six weeks down to less than three days, Calibaba explained. Those deliveries are all tracked and they’ve seen a dramatic improvement in efficiency. Being named a Best Managed company is just one of the goals at ATS; they also have their sights set on being named one of the top 50 best employers in Canada, he added.

Employee engagement on the rise

For the past four years, ATS has participated in the Best Small & Medium Employers (BSME) competition, where employees rate their employers based on a number of criteria. The company has been making “significant changes” that incorporate staff feedback, Calibaba said, and has seen a substantial increase in employee engagement.

Creating a positive culture that results in happy, satisfied employees is important to ATS. The corporate headquarters in Edmonton has a gym that also offers access to personal trainers. Healthy breakfasts are offered once a week for staff, balanced out by “cookie Fridays” at the end of the week. They also operate the ATS University, founded after employee feedback expressed a need for additional staff training. It launched this year and runs on a three-semester calendar, providing access to courses that go beyond industry know-how, such as stress management, financial planning and personal income tax. Customers are also welcome to sign up for classes and take advantage of on-site product training. So far, the feedback has been positive, Calibaba said.

“They’re very happy to see that the company believes in them and is training them,” he explained. Joining ATS means developing a career rather than just working at a job, and they keep a full-time training coordinator on staff to help employees plan their future with the company and determine the training needed to move up within ATS.

Future growth is on the horizon for this innovative company. The traffic consulting division is an important one, and there is also talk about expanding both geographically and in terms of product lines. Growing out the installation division and acquiring other companies are also under consideration.

Edmonton working towards Vision Zero

But one of the biggest moves for ATS is the launch of their Vision Zero Advocate Program, based on a concept implemented in Sweden and a few major cities in the United States that aims to reduce the number of traffic injuries and fatalities. ATS is working with the City of Edmonton to help support the municipal government as it enacts a road safety strategy with a Vision Zero goal, or zero fatalities or major injuries on the city’s roads. Edmonton is the first city in Canada to adopt the program, Calibaba said, and the level of experience and expertise offered by the ATS team will help Edmonton move towards its goal.

“Through the work we’re doing with Vision Zero, we’re putting time and effort and money into making the world a better place and saving lives,” Calibaba said. “We’re not pitching a product. It’s a consulting role to really help (communities) develop their plans and figure out what they need to do to move forward.”