This article reports on the findings of a qualitative research project conducted in the North East of England. This project involved interviews with 55 young adults in an attempt to explore the impact of poor basic skills on transitions to adulthood. Poor basic skills have been identifued across Europe as a problem facing nation states, groups and individuals. But apart from large-scale survey-based studies (Bynner and Parsons, 2001), previous youth research has neglected the process through which basic skills play a role in transitions to adulthood. Proposing a social theory of situated basic skills as communal and individual resources, the authors develop an approach that is sensitive to both structure and agency in theorizing the role of literacy, numeracy and oracy in transitions. They claim that the mobilization of basic skills resources and their role across the life-course can best be understood by using a conceptualization of agency that recognizes the importance of reflexivity as a mediating link between subjective (agential) and objective (structural) dimensions of transition.