Factories are safer and more efficient than ever. Companies are reporting record profits. And data suggests that U.S. manufacturing is rebounding stronger and faster than most other sectors.

Despite all that, an estimated 600,000 manufacturing jobs remain unfilled, and in a new poll commissioned by industrial-tooling maker Kennametal Inc., 71% of respondents said they would not recommend a manufacturing career to young Americans -- primarily because they believe no manufacturing jobs are available.

Maybe it's time for manufacturers to chip in a few bucks and hire a public-relations agent to pump up manufacturing's deflated image.

"Contrary to public perception, the manufacturing industry is leading the economic recovery," says Carlos Cardoso, CEO and chairman of Latrobe, Pa.-based Kennametal.

Cardoso: "It is time for our industry to reintroduce itself to the American people."

"It is time for our industry to reintroduce itself to the American people in a manner that encourages them to understand the vitality and importance of U.S. manufacturing to the global economy."

On Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Cardoso implored executives to speak up about the good things happening in U.S. manufacturing. Afterward, he spoke with IndustryWeek about the disconnect between perception and reality in American manufacturing -- and how it's hurting the industry.

IW: What prompted Kennametal to commission this survey exploring the perception gap in American manufacturing?

CC: The No. 1 reason is that we believe it is our obligation to manufacturing and to the communities in which we do business.

We keep reading about the high unemployment rate. We keep reading about all the financial challenges that we have as a country. And we feel very strongly that we need a strong manufacturing footprint in this country -- and that's what has made this country great.

One of the main drivers for a solution for a lot of the economic problems we have is to make manufacturing stronger in this country.

To do that, we have a skills gap that we need to address. We have a perception gap. We have a lack of focus from our representatives in Washington to making manufacturing a priority.

So I think we needed to start somewhere, and we felt this would be a great place to start. And this study really validates a number of studies that have been done in the last 12 months.