As a junior robotic technician at Magna’s Plastcoat division in Brampton, Ontario, Dessy Li races to repair automated assembly cells and injection-molding machines on deadline, sometimes skipping lunch until the job is done.
“I have this reputation with the team,” said Li, a four-year Magna veteran. “If I can’t figure something out at first, I don’t let it go. I always want to finish what I’m troubleshooting – and I will stay to conquer it. If something is time-sensitive, I keep working. I may get hungry, but if I don’t fix it, I can’t stop and sit down. When you figure out the problem, it’s an achievement.”
Her work ethic and dedication to maintaining plant operations – and her eating habits – are so widely known that Plastcoat shop-floor operators have taken to bringing her fruits and vegetables from their gardens to make up for lost meals.
“They’ll bring me things like Chinese leeks,” said Li, who grew up in Shenyang, China. “It makes me feel so good. This is my first experience with manufacturing, and it’s not what I pictured. The plant is bright and shiny, and the people are so warm and friendly.”
Li’s major responsibility at Plastcoat is programming robots. She also works with different kinds of industrial automation equipment and helped to launch Plastcoat’s robotics training program. Her interest in coaching, problem solving and innovation extends to her volunteer work as a First Robotics competition judge, where she mentors students. Li also served as the Magna representative at the Young Women’s Conference of Skills Ontario in Canada, where she talked about Magna women who work as robot technicians and engineers.
“We’re not exposed to their stories,” Li said. “I tell young women ‘Don’t be afraid of challenges or difficulties. You don’t need muscles to do the work.’ That means the world is more open to us. It doesn’t matter if you’re facing a giant robotic arm. Eventually you will figure it out. Have an open mind.”
Her sense of determination and discipline began at an early age, when Li learned to play the pipa, a Chinese lute or stringed instrument that dates back thousands of years. Li said her mother used a kind of reverse psychology to encourage her daughter’s musical ability.
“My mother is a middle-school teacher in Shenyang,” Li said. “If I was lazy and didn’t practice when I was 7 or 8, she would say, ‘Ok, give up. You are wasting my time and money.’ When I heard that, I persisted and tried harder. It took me a really long time to learn the pipa, but by the time I got to university, I had the chance to lead the pipa group at Shenyang University, teach the instrument, and perform on stage. It felt really nice.”
Those early study habits paid off in many ways.
Li earned a bachelor of applied science degree with a focus on automation from Shenyang University of Technology and an advanced diploma from Humber College in electromechanical engineering technology, also focused on automation and robotics. Her education continues to this day. She is back at Humber in a Magna-sponsored program where she’s learning to become an electrician.
Li likes to share her career milestones with her STEM students and as a Skills Ontario representative, a group that promotes skilled trades and technologies in Canada.
“I share my experience with them, show them what their career could be, and talk about the kinds of projects I work on at Magna,” Li said. “It gives me a ‘sparkling’ feeling. I tell them I love robots and automation.”