Talent Development’s Prasanna: Taking On the Lonely Entrepreneur Walk in a Male Dominated Industry

INVISIBLE GLASS CEILING

Talent Development’s Prasanna: Taking On the Lonely Entrepreneur Walk in a Male Dominated Industry

Talent Development COO Prasanna Sailanathan finds opportunity in closing the skills gap plaguing Malaysia but admits it is no easy feat as woman to get a seat at the leadership table in an engineering and tech-based industry.

It is quite a jarring sight. A vivacious young woman sporting a side-shave and floral-print jacket taking full control of a Siemens mechatronics simulation set.

Fun versus mechanical. Cool versus ‘geeky’. A walking, interesting paradox. And that is what Prasanna Sailanathan is all about.

There's always a curiosity in me - to find a solution to every problem

For the 33-year-old entrepreneur and COO of Talent Development (M) Sdn Bhd , the mechatronics device not only evokes a sense of excitement; it represents a life-long dream come true.

“When I was growing up, my dad used to buy me electronic kits to assemble. I always wanted to be an engineer. It never materialised but there's always a curiosity in me - to find a solution to every problem,” says Prasanna.

Her father, P. Sailanathan, founded Megatech College in 1987 - a private higher education institution that pioneered Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Malaysia.

Trained in biotechnology at California State University, Prasanna has always harboured a passion in engineering. Three years ago, she saw a problem plaguing Malaysia - a skills gap in the workforce - and decided to turn that opportunity into Talent Development, a training centre that provides industry recognised technical certification and qualification.

Put it simply, Talent Development provides mechatronics training - for both graduates and working adults - to fill the automation skills gap.

“I work with lots of students,” says Prasanna says, who dons a second hat – that of Megatech College director. “Some students are not getting employed. So, we started talking to employers and realized that there was a skills gap in the education system."

A testament to its credibility, Siemens made it Talent Development its first private education partner to deliver the Siemens Mechatronic Systems Certification Programme (SMCP) in Southeast Asia.

“I’m a product of a government school. I’ve never been a straight "A's" student. At the end of the day, it is a personal initiative. My dad always says this - just because you are not a straight "A's" student, doesn’t mean you won’t make it to the top,” says Prasanna, underscoring the need to bring skills-based training to the forefront.

“Some kids, they blossom after the age 21. It comes down to mentoring the kid and tapping their potential.”

My dad always says this - just because you are not a straight "A's" student, doesn’t mean you won’t make it to the top

And as Industry 4.0 takes center stage, initiatives to ‘re-skill, up-skill and multi-skill’ the workforce becomes even more critical - and that translated into good business for Talent Development.

“We are trying best to fulfil industry demand because everybody is seeing the importance of automation. And if they don’t jump onto the bandwagon, they will lose out economically.”

To date, 160 local companies have sent their employees for training at Talent Development. “We would have delivered about 500 graduates and we are still growing - with 200 to 300 more to deliver,” says Prasanna.

Prasanna herself is equipped with the Malaysian Skills Advanced Diploma in Mechatronics and is Prosci Change Management certified. She is currently undertaking Six Sigma Black Belt Certification.

ON BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY

A topic that is close to Prasanna’s heart is being a woman entrepreneur in an industry dominated by men. Not mincing her words, she reveals the harsh truth of taking on, what she calls ‘a long walk alone’.

“I’m very open to talk about struggles as female in this industry. I have own mental breakdown too,” she says with a laugh.

“It is very demanding. It’s also so easy for people to brush you aside because you’re a female, and people not taking you seriously because you are a female,” relates Prasanna, “There is still an invisible glass ceiling.”

“I have been discriminated for not being good enough. Hence, I’ve adopted the philosophy of being the hardest worker in the room,” she adds, ‘Sometimes people say working hard is not enough; you have to work smart. But there's no shortcut to success. You have to make yourself known. You have to be backed up by facts and figures. You have to be on top of everything.”

“I don’t give space for people to discriminate me and even if they do, I take it up as a challenge. Fall down seven times, stand up eight,” Prasanna says, “Nobody brings you down without your consent,” she adds with a smile.

I’m backed by many strong men who constantly encourage me that the world is my playground and as a female, I can achieve anything that I want to do

An uphill battle, Prasanna concurs, but one made easier backed with the support and guidance of a group of mentors, which - surprisingly - consists of men mostly.

“I’m backed by many strong men who constantly encourage me that the world is my playground and as a female, I can achieve anything that I want to do,” but that doesn’t mean they go ‘soft’ on her just because she’s a female.

“My business proposal was rejected over ten times before by my mentor finally said ‘You are ready’, reminisce Prasanna of late-night meeting with her mentor at the now-demolished A&W outlet in Petaling Jaya years ago - a time where Prasanna, she described, as ‘broke and close to giving up’.

“When you have a mentor, you need to have a problem solving based relationship. It is very important,” she emphasises.

For a lady who starts her day at five in the morning, juggling two jobs, often staying up past midnight (and even find time to hit the gym), how does she find the drive to do what she does?

“It is knowing what you want,” says Prasanna frankly. “I like the concept of winning. I like sitting with winners. I like challenging myself and pushing the limits - although I don't like being pushed,” she bursts into laughter.

But in all seriousness, Prasanna wants to be a role model to young women, ‘my younger sister,’ she says.

“All you need in this lifetime is to want something so badly. I want to live my father’s legacy. There’s no shortcut. I have to earn it. That’s what my dad has taught me.”

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