But the Exeter University study, commissioned by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, found employers largely satisfied with the abilities of their young recruits.
The report, which looked at the maths skills needed by employers, revealed weaknesses in using percentages (for example among shop assistants who found it difficult to calculate discounts), and place values (in one case a postal worker who had been asked to round up a figure added a zero to the correct total).
Employees who used maths in their work routine found their skill improved with practice. But the study revealed that employers put far less emphasis on numeracy than other skills such as literacy, communications, and ability to work in a team.
A spokesman for SCAA said: "The research indicates there are some common problems with maths, such as percentages and place values and it may be this needs to be given greater attention in schools as well as in on-the-job training."