Engineers at heavy- equipment maker Caterpillar in Tucson will learn the basics of machining and welding at Pima Community College’s Downtown Campus, under a new educational partnership unveiled on Friday.

The idea behind the program, known as the Applied Technology Academy, is to give degreed engineers hands-on experience with fabrication.

“We want to make sure that our engineers, when they’re designing, know the effects of what they do on manufacturing and serviceability in the field for our customers — we’ve got to bring value to them,” Jean Savage, vice president for Caterpillar’s Surface Mining and Technology Division, said at an event announcing the partnership.

The 20-week program was created for Caterpillar and is being be taught by Pima instructors at the school’s Division of Applied Technology at the Downtown Campus, 1255 N. Stone Ave.

Caterpillar is relocating its Surface, Mining and Technology Division to downtown Tucson, along with up to 600 executive jobs over a five-year period and already has some employees in temporary offices downtown.

Caterpillar will house the division in a 150,000-square-foot building under construction west of downtown, which is expected to be completed by March 2019.

On Friday, 24 Caterpillar engineers started the program, with half in the Machining for Non-machinists and half in the Basic Welding for Non-welders courses, which meet weekly. Those completing the program will earn a professional development certificate.

In the future, the classes will be taught at Pima’s planned Center of Excellence in Applied Technology, expected to be built next year on a site adjacent to the Downtown Campus.

Pima Chancellor Lee Lambert said the Caterpillar partnership and the new tech center are part of a renewed commitment by the school to workforce development.

He noted that next summer, Pima plans to open the courses to the general public, allowing other companies with similar training needs to join Caterpillar employees in the program.

“This opens the door for anybody to come to Pima and continue their lifelong learning,” Lambert said.

Gov. Doug Ducey said the Caterpillar partnership fits with his administration’s “Achieve60AZ” initiative, which has a goal of helping 60 percent of Arizonans gain a degree or skills certificate by 2030.

“We know these skills are in high demand,” Ducey said. “We have more jobs in Arizona than people to fill them.”

The Caterpillar-Pima partnership is a prime example of a public-private partnership and one that deserves public support, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said, citing the importance of skills training and certifications.

“It is the pathway out of poverty for many in our community,” he said.

Pima recently demolished a hotel on land adjacent to the Downtown Campus and plans to break ground on the new center next spring, with construction expected to take at least a year, PCC vice chancellor Lisa Brosky said.

Funding for the project, expected to cost $40 million to $50 million, will come from new revenue bonds and existing funding, Brosky said, adding that the exact cost won’t be known until design studies are completed.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz

Senior reporter covering business and technology for the Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com