Germany's military is starting a pilot project to help Syrian refugees learn civil reconstruction skills, in hopes that they'll eventually be able to help rebuild their homeland.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Federal Labor Agency chief Frank-Juergen Weise formally initiated the project Thursday, though the training already began earlier in the week.

Over 12 weeks, military experts are teaching 120 refugees engineering, construction, sanitation and other skills in three four-week courses.

Von der Leyen says the idea is that the eventual rebuilding of Syria will need "more than just new stones, it will take people with confidence and diverse skills."

Even if the refugees decide not to return home, she says the program will help them acquire the skills they need to work in Germany.