Secondary students will now be eligible for a $2000 prize as the Government pushes for more apprentices and people training for industry jobs.
The Prime Minister's Vocational Excellence Awards were launched at Hutt Valley High School on Thursday and follow last week's announcement of reforms to the vocational education system.
Jacinda Arden said secondary schools and wharekura can apply for a prize of $2000 to be awarded to their top vocational student.
She said funding is available for every secondary school in the country.
The Government is "encouraging secondary schools to apply as soon as they can and include this award in their prize-givings for 2019", Ardern added.
"Going to university will always be a great way to further your career but vocational careers are equally as important, particularly given the huge skills shortages that exist across many industry sectors."
Vocational education is defined as learning that has a special emphasis on the skills needed to do a specific job, or work in a specific industry.
Ardern said New Zealand needs more apprentices and people training for industry jobs.
The Government announced last week that New Zealand's 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics will be merged as a single entity in April 2020.
The prospect of a merged polytechnic entity sparked outrage from National's Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti, who warned that "more than a thousand jobs will be lost".
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said vocational education and the training systems "have been allowed to drift for too long".
"We are strengthening the vocational education and training system and unifying it to respond better to the needs of New Zealand learners and employers."