“We won’t hold the line without people at the front.” Vladyslav Greziev from Lobby X on recruitment and problems in the army

Vladyslav Greziev is the founder and CEO of Lobby X, a recruitment agency that will soon celebrate its eighth anniversary. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the project team has been helping Ukraine’s Security and Defense Forces find motivated professionals to fight back against the Russians and, in August, it launched a new platform with military job openings.

Its main feature is the ability to choose the position and unit where a person wants to serve, and responses to job postings are sent directly to commanders.

Lobby X has recently signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Defense, which has effectively brought such recruitment to the official level. The team will also be involved in improving personnel policies in the Armed Forces.

We talked to Vladyslav Greziev about the current results of military recruitment, problems in the army, motivation of volunteers and the main obstacles to joining the Armed Forces, Ukraine’s mobilization potential, and his new educational project, Changemakers (Змінотворці), which is aimed at teenagers from small villages and towns.

Lobby X
All photos in the interview are provided by Vladyslav Greziev

First, I want to congratulate you on signing an agreement with the Ministry of Defense. Based on our previous conversations, you seem to have more work, candidates, and vacancies for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Recently, the Lobby X team grew up, right? How many people work on your project now?

We hired in advance a few people for our military department before signing the agreement. Yes, more work, but we manage it. Currently, our team consists of 20 people, five of whom belong to the military department, including myself.

Recruiting for the AFU is obviously different from classic business recruitment. I have two questions: What are key differences between a “military” interview and a regular one, and how did you prepare your recruiters for this kind of work? Did you hire specialists who were already involved in recruiting processes for the state in the past?

Classic recruiting is a proactive engagement of people, searching after them in business media, professional communities, etc. We do it as civil hiring and can deliver a “turnkey-like” closed vacancy. Our recruiters would search for candidates, perform interviews, and present the best of them to an employer.

We don’t provide proactive hiring for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We only post their vacancies on our portal. Anyone who gets to the Defense Forces via our website is a volunteer who applied for a vacancy. We didn’t find them.

Why? Any commander would say that motivation is a key parameter for defining a good soldier. First of all, he must want to serve, and then you can teach him anything. Therefore, we teach military officers how to pick candidates right, especially how to conduct interviews.

By the launch of our military department, there were only a few units for which we published job openings, collected feedback, selected candidates to cover headquarters and commander positions, and even interviewed them.

But it cost us so much time. However, with increasing numbers of candidates, we quickly understood we could not do screening of their CVs. In addition, the very units wanted to check all who applied for their vacancies.

But sometimes, we can still do one or another interview. Recently, we got a request from Achilles, the 92nd Separate Stormtroopers Brigade’s Attacking Drone Company. They are really cool guys building an efficient and progressive team. Now, they are expanding from company size to a battalion unit and have asked us to organize all the selection, interview, and onboarding processes. Just today, we got another similar turnkey request for a very important position. Due to its critical importance, we will mobilize additional resources to re-launch and systematize this service.

It will be a kind of outsourcing. Our specialist will integrate into the unit, observe, communicate with all commanders, understand the unit’s culture, and establish selection routines.

In any case, it would be better that military units have their own recruiters who would do the job. This issue is being discussed with the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. We believe the units should have at least four recruiters each. Their hiring experts must know the culture and values of a unit, their commanders, and internal affairs and get clear requests and requirements for the jobs from the commanders to select the best candidates.

Lobby X used to publish TOP 5 popular areas of service in the AFU, where IT and drone operators were among the first. To what extent does demand exceed supply in these areas?

Effective today, there are the following statistics of published job openings on our portal:

  1. Paramedics — 223
  2. Infantry — 212
  3. Staff — 165
  4. IT — 150
  5. Communication — 88
  6. Drone Pilots — 84
  7. Transport — 80
  8. Press Officers — 53

Of over 48,000 applications, the most wanted professions are:

  1. IT
  2. Staff
  3. Drone Pilots
  4. Press Officers
  5. Infantry
  6. Paramedics
  7. Communication
  8. Transport

It is worth mentioning that there are also volunteers for infantry roles despite their high-risk nature in case of possible injuries or death. These volunteers exist because they can select a unit and commander they trust and where their lives are valuable.

I will ask you questions about infantry a bit later. Now I wonder about something different. In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned the high demand for IT positions in the armed forces and that there were only a few. You also recalled the Cyber Forces of the AFU. For most of us, it remains a secret since they never appeared officially. Who hires people there, then?

The Cyber Forces exist de facto. The legalization of their existence among the Security and Defense Forces has been in progress for the last two months and is now been finalized.

In fact, they are a separate department. I cannot say where exactly, but the Cyber Forces do exist and work. We helped them recruit qualified specialists and are in touch with their leadership.

I also know that the Cyber Forces are satisfied with their output. They are not so public and organize no PR events. They are focused mainly on the results. I can give you an example: Do you remember that recently, the Russian fiscal system has been hacked by the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine? I know the Defense Intelligence has no separate unit that does cyber events. It means we may presume it was done by someone else.

I got your hint; it’s interesting.

Regarding the IT jobs in the armed forces, Lobby X used to publish a lot of them, but mostly tech specialists and people engaged in the sector of changes knew our platform.

So, when we started military recruiting, IT naturally became one of the most demanded. And it is obvious why: tech-savvy boys and girls can be useful in the army by doing what they know the best. At the same time, both demand and the number of vacancies are at the top here. In March 2022, the General Staff requested to hire several hundreds of system administrators for multiple units.

By the way, at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, it was a serious issue with recruiting to infantry units despite the person being a qualified communication specialist or a system administrator. How is it now?

It is a classic one, and the problem remains. Territorial Recruiting Centers have their quotas for certain positions in specific units. It is no secret that, no matter how terrifying it may sound, the infantry units have the highest personnel turnover. For sure, the Territorial Recruitment Centers try to fill those gaps with anyone available, even if a person has a rare profession.

And any IT specialist would be much more effective as a drone pilot or a communication, electromagnetic warfare, or signals intelligence officer. And there are vacancies for these positions on our portal.

On the day of signing the agreement with the MoD, you said Lobby X would participate in improving the HR policies of the Defense Forces. What are the main problems with the current recruiting methods at TRCs? How to solve them? Because now, it seems to be an unresolvable issue.

Yes, the Ministry of Defense is working on changing the Armed Forces HR and Personnel policies. We are aiding them as experts, collaborating in specialized workgroups, and consulting.

I believe Ukraine needs to review the business routines in the Armed Forces, and here, I mean not only the TRCs.

In general, I would find the causes and not treat the symptoms. When the big war began, everybody was excited about the first victories over the enemy, and there was a big hope and a lot of effort to develop this success in 2023. Unfortunately, some plans failed to succeed due to absolutely obvious reasons. And now is the best moment to stop and analyze the entire Armed Forces system.

After working more than six months on this, speaking with dozens of officers with the most different ranks, from a private to a commander, I can tell you today that the biggest challenge with recruiting is demotivation. What would stop a person from joining the AFU? I recommend identifying these main demotivating factors and solving them.

I think it’s the best time to troubleshoot and build a modernized Army v2.0.

Frankly speaking, I see the strongest fear is the fear of death, and it’s natural and normal.

No. Our studies (done by consulting with human motivation psychology and nature, social and biological factor specialists) show that people have fear only when facing death itself in one way or another.

Sure, it is an important factor, but guys who never saw the death would never call it their No. 1 blocker.

Usually, people refuse because of uncertainty, a total lack of understanding of what happens next. The more control over the future and influence a person gains, the higher the chances the person would take a step forward.

The second critical factor is the trust of a future commander. People in the army basically give their lives under one’s command. The Armed Forces are now starving for educated commanders with leadership qualities and personnel management, operation planning, tactic and strategic skills, as well as honor for human dignity.

You said the most important is to be sure of your future. Do I get it right that you also mean clear demobilization and rotation procedures?

This also. It includes an understanding of what unit a person will serve. By applying through Lobby X, people have that option. However, it remains a complete lottery at the TRCs.

Yes, accumulating proper military reserves is significant. The men and women had been fighting at the fronts for almost two years already, and they needed rest, rotation, or even demobilization.

Based on what you have heard during conversations with the MoD, do they agree with those ideas or find them yet impossible?

For sure, they at the Ministry of Defense and General Staff realize people got tired and must rest. But it is a complicated matter. I heard many populist statements from the parliament members about “simple solutions” like a Demobilization Bill. However, the same military would be among the first against the bill. Currently, there is no substitute, no reserves enough to cover some part of the front.

If we do so, we would get a hole in the frontline, Russians would march through, and it would cause even more problems. And then, the very demobilized soldiers and officers would have to return to the fray, but the threat would be much closer to our capital.

So first, the frontline units must be filled with men, and then the reserve. Only after that, we may speak of some large-scale rotation and rest for a long time.

In any case, the battalion commanders are already practicing internal rotation at the company level. Sure, it is only a few breaks, but the guys need it.

Now we are back to the infantry, one of the most pressing topics, maybe. Do you know how to motivate people to join an infantry unit? It might be a big problem, especially after statements like “robots must fight at the front instead of humans,” which is now merely impossible to do. And I am sure that infantry soldiers get angry when hearing this kind of statement.

I agree, we must use all technologies available. This war goes live thanks to drones and situational awareness systems. We must invest in our military tech. I personally evaluate our state’s efforts in the defense industry as more or less well. But we also must examine what Ukroboronprom did since the new CEO delivered no news after his appointment, and there are plenty of specific challenges, indeed.

Anyway, we won’t hold the line without people at the front in the near future. How can we motivate people? Simple mottos are not enough anymore. They just won’t work. All who wanted to join the Armed Forces due to their feelings of dignity, patriotism, and duty long serve or support the military.

Nowadays, we should work on how to motivate civilians from different clusters. The simple mottos won’t work. An infantry fighter must have all the conditions to get a clear answer on whether the army did everything that he survives and does his work with success. Only after assuring this, we will have the maximum number of applicants for infantry units.

How to do it? Surely, with the professional, trained, and educated infantry unit commanders and high command who have two priorities: complete a mission and save the personnel. If a commander succeeds in a mission but loses all his personnel, it’s a terrible commander.

We fight against a nation with a triple or even larger mobilization potential than ours. From a long-term perspective, we may not neglect the numbers. So we must show more quality and save our people.

Good weapons, equipment, and technology also matter.

You mentioned military tech. What do you think about the effectiveness of grants and funding multiple projects with the hope that one of them should be a game-changer? Some military men criticize it and say that we require FPV drones and Lancet-like battle drones as soon as possible and that they don’t want to pay with their lives for some experiments.

Speaking of miltech, I meant the drones exclusively. I think the strategy of simultaneous funding for many projects makes sense. Without developing ideas that are promising according to the experts, without letting them into the MVP stage and proving them, we won’t know their possible results. And a potential innovation could be lost.

There are problems with supply of critical things like FPV drones, for example. Now, the government also finances the massive production of FPVs, compared to the situation a few months before, when volunteers did all the work.

By the way, we signed a memo with the Brave1 cluster and the TechForces of Ukraine Manufacturer Association. We help them recruit engineers, production specialists, software developers, etc. This industry hungers for professionals, particularly those who can work with hardware. It is growing and can become a driver of the Ukrainian economy after the victory.

What plans does Lobby X have in the military area?

Our short-term goal is to provide wide communication to people so that they can choose a position and a unit. For this, we place ads in lightboxes and billboards countrywide. We prepare a radio and television promo campaign.

However, the mobilization reserve of those who seek to choose a position and a unit will be exhausted pretty soon. Then, we should go deep and destroy demotivating factors on the state’s site.

Within a military department, we will launch another campaign to employ and resocialize veterans that is to be announced in Q1 2024. Our philosophy is that society must be synchronized with veterans and integrated into their reality, and not vice versa.

It is not only because of the drastically increasing number of veterans. We all have to be on the same vibe and understand the price people paid and risked with their health and lives to protect our sovereignty and freedom.

I want to end our conversation with a question about your new project, Changemakers (Змінотворці). What does the education for teenagers from small towns that your team is involved in look like in practice? How are the classes organized? Where are they held?

We started working on the project last December, realizing the long-term perspective of our country. Even if we win the war, we still won’t be able to exterminate all the hostile population of Russia. Maybe we shouldn’t do this. It would be good if Russia were to break up into smaller states, but even then, we’ll still have hostile neighbors.

So, for our independence and freedom, it is essential to be strong as a state, as a society, as a country, as an army, and always be able to fight back or even be so strong that any aggressor would not dare to attack. All this is about the people who fill the army and government agencies, society, businesses, and all other spheres, their capacity, and professionalism.

Not to mention the fact that we now have over six million Ukrainian refugees abroad because of the war, and polls show not very optimistic forecasts for their return — about 42% of the population under the age of 20 have gone abroad, and only 27% of them want to return. And their parents make even worse predictions, wanting their children to continue living and studying abroad. And out of these 42% of people who left, 80% are children from cities.

Accordingly, in this age range, the population in Ukraine mostly lives in villages and small towns. A year ago, my team and I decided to invest in these people.

Vladyslav Greziev and members of Changemakers during one of the offline visits to teenagers

Yes, of course, we can return Ukrainians from abroad and engage in migration policy, but the most obvious solution for me is to invest in those who stay in Ukraine.

So we went to villages and small towns, realizing that teenagers and young people have fewer opportunities for their development there than in big cities. At Lobby X, we observe an obvious correlation: when university graduates come to us for interviews, they have experience in organizations such as the Foundation for Regional Initiatives, Plast, AIESEC, and so on, they are more capable and competitive in the labor market because they have a broader understanding of how the world works, its various spheres, and probably more experience in interacting with different people.

There are very few or no such opportunities in villages and small towns. So we decided to offer our educational program to the children there. It consists of twelve courses covering critical areas of the modern world: Military, Society, Economy, Business, Relationships, Technology, Media and Information, Culture, Art, Environment, State and Politics, and Health.

We hypothesize that by completing these twelve courses, teenagers will understand the modern world and how it works and thus become more progressive and capable in their development and decision-making.

In five years, we plan to have 20,000 project participants annually. Cumulatively, this will affect the average welfare of the entire society. It will become more capable and robust, and accordingly, it will strengthen the country, the army, business, and the public sector.

The training began in October, and more than 500 teenagers participated in the project. The first groups have already completed their first classes. Before the start, we spent ten months building the team, developing content, and setting up business processes. We traveled to seven regions and selected 26 schools to present our project.

The program consists of 90% of group online classes. There are 24 to 36 teenagers in one group. There are also offline components — we come to villages and towns on weekends and work with children. This work is significant for them and the country.