The announcement that Manulife plans to shed 700 positions isn’t a sign of automation tightening its grip on all human jobs, experts say – but neither is it something that can be ignored.

The insurance giant revealed this week that it is cutting the positions as part of an increasing trend toward digitization. The company recently created an artificial intelligence tool and handed it the power to make a number of decisions around underwriting.

A recent report from the Human Resources Professionals Association estimated that 42 per cent of the Canadian workforce will be affected in some way by automation.

“Going forward, this is going to be the new norm,” says Scott Allinson, the organization’s vice-president of public affairs.

According to the HRPA report, automation is more likely to affect “high-risk” sectors like insurance. Even there, though, the need for people to control and analyze the input and output of machines means that not every human working in insurance will see their job put at risk.

“The work is going to be there,” Allinson says.

“We just have to figure out what that work is going to be and put a focus on getting our workforce trained for those jobs.”

Allinson says governments, businesses and the education sector all have roles to play in figuring out what the Canadian workforce will look like in the future and how the country will adapt to handle major job losses due to automation.

Mac Graham, the owner of Kitchener-based life insurance brokerage Klyne Insurance, calls Manulife’s move to digitization part of a larger trend in the industry.

Many insurance companies are still “paper-based,” he says, and are looking to change that.

“We live in a very immediate society where people want immediate answers to their questions,” he says.

“They want to be able to make changes to their policies and their plans immediately, and in our industry currently it’s simply not possible to do many of those things.”

According to Manulife, changes being made as part of this week’s announcement include shifting up to 80 per cent of client interactions to automated processes.

With reporting by Heather Senoran