The energy sector is alarmed that about half of the electrical apprentices tested this year have failed internal literacy and numeracy exams.
For years, apprenticeship and trainee completion rates in Australia have been low, with about half of all candidates dropping out.
This year the energy sector's industry council, E-Oz Energy Skills Australia, decided to find out why.
They formally tested all of the candidates applying to become electrical apprentices, and spokesman Juan Maddock says about half of the 4,000 students failed basic testing.
"There are some very strong numeracy requirements of the electrical apprenticeship and too often we find it is the students who are failing English and maths who get pointed towards trade careers," he said.
"They come into the system, they're never really given a chance of success and they just keep failing and repeating until they lose interest and drop out."
Mr Maddock says it is not enough that apprentices are good with their hands - they need literacy and numeracy skills to be successful.
"It is really high-level numeracy skills, particularly for us in the electrical field, which determine their chance of progressing," he said.
"Approximately half of all students who drop out do so just because of those numeracy requirements."
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Jenny Lambert says the energy sector is not alone with its concerns.
"The feedback we get from employers is that concerns are registering in this across the board, in a range of occupations," she said.
"The really important objective for schools is to rethink those issues of basic performance and ensuring that there should be at least a minimum requirement for literacy and numeracy for people who wish to leave school whether they leave school early or whether they leave school at Year 12."
In January, Western Australia announced that all of the state's students would need to meet minimum literacy and numeracy standards before they left school.
Ms Lambert says this should be rolled out nationally.
"Our policy called for all states to adopt the WA approach of looking at minimum requirements for all school leavers," she said.
"To recognise that NAPLAN national system of measurement is really about school measurement but we need to direct activity towards ensuring that the individual has the basic skills they need."
Group Training Australia is the national network of training organisations and oversees around 35,000 apprentices and trainees, as well as the businesses that employ them.
Its chief Jim Barron supports the idea of compulsory minimum education standards.
"I think it's got a lot of merit. The issue of ensuring that we get quality candidates into all the key trades is absolutely critical," he said.
"The standard of student coming out of the school system in Australia is often not as high as it should be.
"A lot of employers are now having to invest additional of their own income into providing a separate literacy and numeracy courses for their students, for their first year apprentices to ensure that they maintain reasonable levels of literacy and numeracy so providing a floor under which all apprentices should begin from is a very good idea but again I think it gets back to the quality of our education system.
"We must be producing a standard of student that is high enough and good enough to make sure that the next generation of tradesmen are able to actually do the job."
Federal Education and Training Minister Christopher Pyne has been contacted for comment but has so far failed to return calls.